(Received 9 January 1984; accepted 30 January 1984)
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Although the use of ethanol, marijuana, and other drugs may be detrimental to driving safety, this has been established by direct epidemiological evidence only for ethanol. In this study, the incidences of detection of ethanol (and other volatile substances), delta-9-tetrahy-drocannabinol (THC), barbiturates, cocaine and benzoylecgonine, opiates, and phencyclidine were determined in an inclusive population of 600 verified single-vehicle operator fatalities that occurred in North Carolina in 1978 to 1981. The incidence of detection of amphetamines and methaqualone were determined for drivers accepted for study during the first two years (n = 340) and the last year (n = 260), respectively. Blood concentrations of 11-nor-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol-9-carboxylic acid (9-carboxy-THC) were determined in THC positive drivers. EMIT cannabinoid assays were performed on blood specimens from all drivers accepted for study during the third year, and the feasibility of using the EMIT cannabinoid assay as a screening method for cannabinoids in forensic blood specimens was investigated. The incidence of detection of ethanol (79.3%) was far greater than the incidences determined for THC (7.8%), methaqualone (6.2%), and barbiturates (3.0%). Other drugs were detected rarely, or were not detected. Blood ethanol concentrations (BECs) were usually high; 85.5% of the drivers whose bloods contained ethanol and 67.8% of all drivers had BECs greater than or equal to 1.0 g/L. Drug concentrations were usually within or were below accepted therapeutic or active ranges. Only a small number of drivers could have been impaired by drugs, and most of them had high BECs. Multiple drug use (discounting ethanol) was comparatively rare. Ethanol was the only drug tested for that appears to have a significantly adverse effect on driving safety.
Chief toxicologist, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and professor, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
Graduate student, Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Natural Products, School of Pharmacy, Chapel Hill, NC
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