Fargo, ND- Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the U.S., so naturally the drug is also believed to contribute to a large number of fatal drugged driving accidents. But a new study contradicts that notion, finding that prescription drug use is more common in fatal drugged driving accidents than previously thought.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) study found that the number of drugged drivers using more than one drug, nearly doubled in the past two decades. Increasing from 11.5 percent in 1993 to 21.5 percent in 2010, according to Newswise.

“In 1993, about 1 in 8 drivers were using multiple drugs concurrently. By 2010, it was closer to 1 in 5. That’s a large increase in drug use,” said study author Fernando Wilson, PhD, associate professor at UNMC.

The study release by the Public Health Law Research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that while marijuana use was prevalent among drugged drivers under the age of thirty, prescription drug use was more common for drugged drivers over the age of 50. Additionally, 59 percent of drugged drivers over the age of 50 were taking three or more prescription drugs.

The study also found that fatal drugged driving accidents for the 50 and over set increased by 12 percent since 1993.

What’s more, 55 percent of drugged drivers who tested positive for marijuana also had alcohol in their system. Of the drivers who tested positive for cocaine, 70 percent has also consumed alcohol.

“These trends are likely to continue into the future given the aging U.S. population, an increasing reliance on prescription medications by medical providers, and increasing initiatives to legalize marijuana,” Wilson said in a press release.

Authors of the study suggest that making the penalties for drugged driving tougher would help curtail fatal accidents, though the study’s authors pointed out that “per se” laws were ineffective at preventing drugged driving.

The study also praised preventative policies such as looking at whether people taking “multiple cognitive-impairing medications” should be allowed to keep their license. And encourage physicians to make their patients aware of the potential dangers of driving under the influence of impairing prescription drugs.

It’s time for a study to focus on drugged driving and prescription drugs, which presents as great a danger to others as much as alcohol or marijuana. There is a misconception that because a drug is prescribed by a doctor and is medically necessary, a person is not considered impaired and it’s perfectly acceptable to drive. This not the case, and the accused could be facing charges and severe penalties.

Driving under influence means driver is impaired; they are unable to safely operate a vehicle. Regardless of the substance they used prior to getting behind the wheel. If you have been charged with drugged driving and were not actually impaired, you need to contact a DUI attorney in your area to work on your defense and, perhaps allow you to avoid conviction.