A new study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs says that from 2019 to 2020, more than 11,000 drug users were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries.
According to the report’s lead author Bart Hammig, “When these patients present to the emergency department, it becomes important not only to treat the injuries but also to refer patients to drug treatment in an effort to intervene and prevent further negative events related to drug use.”
Moreover, standard injury-prevention strategies such as helmet use and improved bike lanes may not be sufficient to reduce these incidences among these patients, as it is “unlikely that the person was riding the bike for exercise,” according to the study’s authors.
Instead of using a car for transportation, these bicyclists may be riding because of conditions related to a drug use disorder, such as homelessness, a license suspension due to a prior conviction for driving while drunk, or financial hardship.
“This is an often overlooked and ignored population when discussing bicycle injuries,” Hammig adds, “but one that stakeholders such as emergency department personnel, drug treatment centers and transportation officials need to consider when trying to prevent future injuries.”
According to Hammig and his co-author Robert Davis, Ph.D., intoxicated bicyclists often have more severe injuries than other victims. According to the findings of the study, fractures (22%) and injuries to internal organs (19%) were among the most common types of injuries sustained, and over one-third of patients required hospitalization. Only 1% of the injuries were concussions, but 8% of the accidents were caused by drug poisoning. As the information was gathered at the hospital, victims who passed away at the scene were excluded.
A significant number of patients were male (86.4%). Most crash victims had methamphetamine (36.4%), cannabis (30.7%), and opioids (18.5%) in their systems. Nearly a quarter of crash victims also had alcohol in their systems.
For their investigation, Hammig and Davis examined 2019–2020 hospital database data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. The system’s nationally representative sample of U.S. hospitals allows for countrywide incident estimation.
The researchers in this study collected information on all bicycle accidents that occurred throughout the study period and involved the use of psychoactive medications (not including alcohol).
They calculated 11,314 such injuries or 2.6% of the total projected 480,286 injuries related to bicycles throughout the study period.
Hammig and Davis say that it will be hard to stop drug-related bicycle accidents because there are so many factors that often overlap and affect each other. They do point out that more research, data collecting, and surveillance will assist identify more measures to prevent such injuries.
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