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Opioid Use and Truck Drivers

trucker
Opioid use and misuse are so widespread that it has been characterized as an epidemic. There have been attempts to curtail this crisis, but criminal laws and industry regulations have failed to remedy the epidemic. This catastrophe is country-wide, affecting all trades, including truck drivers.

Truck accidents often have far-reaching consequences. The American economy is literally driven by-products delivered from coast to coast by eighteen-wheelers. Truck drivers are safe and conscientious most of the time. However, when truck drivers take opiates and do not stay off the road, it can be a deadly combination. This is a circumstance in which the criminal laws and safety regulations have failed to fix the problem. Plaintiffs' attorneys have taken up the gauntlet and have been holding truck drivers and companies accountable, forcing them to face the consequences of driving trucks while impaired by opiates.

In this article:

Poorly Enforced Law

Federal law prohibits truck drivers from driving while using opioids unless permitted by a doctor. However, this law has been poorly enforced against opioid use because drivers are expected to self-report their use of the drug. This is the quintessential fox guarding the chicken coop.

Two Methods of Addiction

Truckers get opiates and become dependent one of two ways: through recreational use or through legitimate treatment by a doctor that turns into an addiction. Truck drivers could have received a legitimate opioid prescription from their doctor.

But, regardless of the reason for their prescription, all opiates are very addictive, despite the fact that drug companies and medical professionals have widely refused to recognize this danger. Doctors had ordered opioids when they could have prescribed a safer alternative, or even when no extra strength pain medication was necessary. Further, doctors have prescribed excessive doses of unnecessarily powerful opiates, or prescribed opiates long after the pain that was the basis for the use is gone.

Treating Truck Driver Injuries with Opiate Pain Medication

Opiates are typically prescribed to ease the pain for people who suffered an injury, are recovering from surgery, or have long-lasting pain. Because of the nature of their job, truck drivers are particularly vulnerable to opioid addiction. Truckers that are dealing with injuries are eager to eliminate the pain during long hauls.

Truck drivers' injuries often happen when loading or unloading the tractor-trailer or performing maintenance. Or they may have gotten injured outside of the job and have chronic pain. Pain can be aggravated by sitting in one position for a long time, which is one of the requirements for driving a truck. Strenuous work schedules and fatigue are inherent in the transportation field. Truck drivers have one of the most difficult and strict schedules in the field. Unfortunately, some drivers use drugs recreationally to cope with job stress and to deal with the monotony while they are on the road for extended periods of time.

Opiate Impairment by Truckers

The most common types of opioids are Hydrocodone, Methadone, Oxycodone Morphine, Hydromorphone, Propoxyphene, and Fentanyl. All of the above-listed opiates have the same side effects, despite their varying degree of analgesic strength. Opiate side effects include drowsiness, decreased executive function (which includes risk analysis), addiction, reduction of reaction times, and inhibition of the ability to focus.

The criminal side of opiate use is difficult to analyze with current laws. Alcohol impairment can be readily quantified, and all state laws recognize that .08 % is the legal standard for impairment. But there is no legal standard for opioid impairment. Opiate impairment can't be measured just by testing blood or urine. The tests only indicate that an opiate has been used recently.

Further opiate testing can't test for the symptoms from opiate withdrawal. Long term opiate withdrawal can be just as dangerous as, or even more hazardous than, driving under the influence of opiates. The physical manifestations of withdrawal include lethargy, light-headedness, muscle cramps, nausea, or an inability to sleep for extended lengths of time. Each of these symptoms individually can increase the risk of a truck driver causing an accident, but when combined, there is no doubt that a driver going through opiate withdrawal should not be behind the wheel of a 70-ton killing machine. Currently, there are no criminal laws or safety regulations that specifically address opiate withdrawal.

Investigating Truck Driver Opiate Use

Truck drivers work long hours seated in one position and need to be constantly vigilant since they are sharing the roadway with families in cars, motorcyclists, and other trucks. Opiates can and do inhibit their ability to be vigilant. Despite the danger, companies have failed to ensure that the public is safely sharing the roadway with their truck drivers.

To make matters worse, many truck companies don't have a comprehensive opiate policy or a prescription drug policy, even though prescription drugs can be more dangerous than alcohol when mixed with operating heavy equipment and driving. They don't ask employees about prescription drug use, and the employees don't tell. It often is up to the injured person's lawyer to discover whether prescription opioids played a role in the crash.

Toxicology Reports

A post-accident toxicology report showing evidence of opiate use does not always establish that opiates were a substantial factor in causing the accident. An injured person's lawyer must tie the accident to the use of opiates by showing that the driver used the opiate prior to the accident. A lawyer must find out whether the driver had an opiate prescription. The truck driver almost always denies using opiates.

Determining if the Truck Driver was on Opiates

An experienced lawyer that handles trucking accidents is essential to the determination of whether opiates played a role in the accident. For every trucking accident, the lawyer must request the driver's qualification file and personnel records. In discovery, using requests for production of documents is the quickest way to get the files despite the drivers and trucking companies' objections. The reason they do not want lawyers to obtain the driver file is that it can show that companies have not done their due diligence in ensuring that they hired and continued to employ safe drivers.

Inspection of the Personnel File

The personnel file should contain a medical professional's certificate, including the name and location of who performed the DOT physical. These documents could contain health conditions that may lead to a prescription for narcotic pain medications. The personnel file should have drug and alcohol test reports if they are available. Multiple days off are commonly associated with treatment for conditions involving chronic pain and could be an indication that opiates have been prescribed or used by the driver.

Further Investigation to Find Valuable Evidence

Another discovery tactic available to injured parties' lawyers is to send interrogatories to the trucking company about the trucker's injuries, surgeries, or ongoing health conditions. Interrogatories should be sent about any over-the-counter or doctor-ordered medications that the driver had before the time of the accident.  The identities of the prescribing medical providers and the drugstores that medications were retrieved from are vital because they can let the lawyer know that the trucker has provided the truth about their drug use.

A common trucking company tactic used to prevent their obligation for providing this information is to object on the basis of irrelevance. In a lot of cases, the company and trucker may object to any request, no matter how it is worded. The fact that they put forth a baseless objection can be indicative that they are very concerned about answering the question properly. An experienced trucking lawyer will be prepared to file motions to compel to blast through the baseless objections if they insist upon being unreasonable.

Hold Truckers and Trucking Companies Accountable for Injuries or Death

An experienced truck accident attorney will subpoena all documents from the Department of Transportations' mandated health examiner, including any documents that were provided at the checkup, documents from the truck driver's doctors after the crash, the truck driver's workers' compensation insurance documents, documents from the trucker's primary care provider and hospital records. These documents can contain the smoking gun for ascertaining whether opioid use is related to the crash.

Trucking companies have turned a blind eye to the opiate epidemic and have chosen to exclude the most commonly abused drugs in the country from their drug testing policy. Motorists sharing the roads with these truck drivers have shouldered the burden of this industry failure through the devastating injuries and the loss of their loved ones. Criminal laws and safety regulations have failed to hold opiate-using truck drivers and the enabling trucking companies liable for the dangers that they create on the roads. Truck drivers' opioid abuse and its effects on highway safety do not have to be tolerated.

Experienced plaintiff lawyers are holding the truckers and the trucking companies accountable for their failure to ensure the public's safety. Their injured clients may never get their health or loved ones back, but they can rest assured that they will have their day in court with an experienced trucking lawyer at their side who knows what devastation the trucking company's blind eye to opiate abuse has caused.

The video from Q13 News below discusses how thousands of truck drivers across the US are using drugs and passing the drug tests.

Sacramento Truck Accident Lawyer

I'm Ed Smith, a Sacramento Truck Accident Lawyer. Injuries from a truck accident can be severe or even deadly. If you or a family member has been seriously injured in an accident involving a large truck and need guidance from an experienced injury attorney, call me at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400. We offer free, friendly legal advice.

We are members of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

See our client reviews on GoogleYelp, and AVVO and our past verdicts and settlements.

Photo by Lê Minh from Pexels

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