The Silent Epidemic: Opioid Use and Driving

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “More than 760,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose.” In 2018 alone, nearly 70% of the 67,367 overdose deaths involved an opioid. These numbers show that opioid use has reached a crisis level across the country. 

Opioids and the Trucking Industry

Sadly, the trucking industry is not immune to these addiction issues. In fact, the opioid epidemic becomes even more deadly when you consider the user may be a trucker sitting behind the wheel of a semi-truck. 


For professionals in the shipping and trucking world, there is not a bit of shock that opioids are a problem. For years, we have known that the working conditions of an average trucker are linked to alcohol and drug use. The long hours and isolated conditions lead some to look for a way through long and grueling shifts. 


A study published in Reuters showed how truckers use stimulants and pain relievers to get through long and lonely shifts across the country. Unfortunately, the side effects of many of these over-prescribed medications can cause: vertigo, agitation, hallucinations and potentially change perceptions and reaction time. Not a good combination for someone hauling many tons of weight in their truck. 

The Trucking Lifestyle 


According to the DOT’s 2014 survey of truck driver health and injury, almost half of the nation’s truck drivers are over the age of 50. Of these drivers, a majority have been in the trucking industry most of their adult lives. 


That translates to many years sitting in a vehicle experiencing a sedentary life. Compounding this lack of movement is the lack of nutrition, food, and exercise that many truckers experience for days and weeks at a time.  


One study found that there is a high prevalence of obesity, lack of nutrition, and poor sleep schedules within the population of truck drivers. Years of sitting in one spot for hours could lead to arthritis, joint pain, back pain, and circulation problems. Opioids are very commonly prescribed to relieve symptoms of these medical conditions. The combination of prescription opioids and operation of any motor vehicle can be catastrophic and sometimes deadly.

Drug Testing and the Clearinghouse 


To combat these issues, the U.S. The Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Clearinghouse rule became operational on January 6, 2020. This electronic database contains information about commercial motor vehicle drivers’ drug and alcohol program violations. With these testing and reporting requirements, our roads become safer and our drivers healthier.