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Prescription opioid use among drivers in British Columbia, 1997–2016


Background Opioids increase the risk of traffic crash by limiting coordination, slowing reflexes, impairing concentration and producing drowsiness. The epidemiology of prescription opioid use among drivers remains uncertain. We aimed to examine population-based trends and geographical variation in drivers’ prescription opioid consumption.

Methods We linked 20 years of province-wide driving records to comprehensive population-based prescription data for all drivers in British Columbia (Canada). We calculated age- and sex-standardised rates of prescription opioid consumption. We assessed temporal trends using segmented linear regression and examined regional variation in prescription opioid use using maps and graphical techniques.

Results A total of 46 million opioid prescriptions were filled by 3.0 million licensed drivers between 1997 and 2016. In 2016 alone, 14.7% of all drivers filled at least one opioid prescription. Prescription opioid use increased from 238 morphine milligram equivalents per driver year (MMEs/DY) in 1997 to a peak of 834 MMEs/DY in 2011. Increases in MMEs/DY were greatest for higher potency and long-acting prescription opioids. The interquartile range of prescription opioid dispensation by geographical region increased from 97 (Q1=220, Q3=317) to 416 (Q1=591, Q3=1007) MMEs/DY over the study interval.

Implications Patterns of prescription opioid consumption among drivers demonstrate substantial temporal and geographical variation, suggesting they may be modified by clinical and policy interventions. Interventions to curtail use of potentially impairing prescription medications might prevent impaired driving.

  • public health
  • descriptive epidemiology
  • driver
  • drugs

Data availability statement

Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available. Data stewards including the British Columbia Ministry of Health and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia provided the de-identified administrative health and driver data used in this study. Linked data were accessed through Population Data BC. All inferences, opinions and conclusions drawn in this manuscript are those of the authors and do not reflect the opinions or policies of the Data Stewards.

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