A national survey finds that about 16% of all prescription drug use is misuse, and another study shows that illicit drug use has gone up, even among safety-sensitive professionals. Photo by iStock.

A national survey finds that about 16% of all prescription drug use is misuse, and another study shows that illicit drug use has gone up, even among safety-sensitive professionals. Photo by iStock.

It has been widely reported in the media that there has been a rise in both prescription and illicit drug abuse in the U.S.

One story that ran earlier this month on National Public Radio (NPR) cites The National Survey on Drug Use, which asked respondents for the first time last year about all uses of prescription medications, instead of just inappropriate use. The survey found that 119 million Americans age 12 and older, or 45% of the U.S. population, according to NPR, took prescription drugs. Moreover, 19 million of those respondents didn’t follow a prescription, and more than one-third had a prescription but took the drugs excessively. Altogether, about 16% of all prescription drug use was misuse, NPR reported.

This story, among others, has me wondering whether this reported increase is adding to the challenge of hiring and retaining school bus drivers.  

There have been a few news stories within the last year or so about school bus drivers who have been in accidents or have been reported for unsafe driving while they either have had prescription medications in their system and/or were in possession of prescription medications that were not prescribed to them.

That was the case with a school bus driver in Michigan, who told deputies that she had taken prescription drugs earlier in the day and may have blacked out just before her bus struck a parked minivan in January, according to Detroit Free Press. Deputies found in her purse a pill container with prescription medications, including narcotics. Some of the pills she had were prescribed to her and some were not, according to the newspaper.

In Colorado, a school bus driver who lost control of her bus, which then went into a spin and overturned with eight students on board, seriously injuring two, was found to have six prescription medications in her system (her attorney said that drug tests showed she was not impaired at the time of the crash.)

In Pennsylvania, school bus driver Sharon Rox was accused of driving under the influence in February, and in April she was ordered to stand trial, WTAE reported. In a preliminary hearing, a witness claimed to have seen Rox driving slowly, swerving several times, and forcing oncoming vehicles off the road, according to the news outlet. The police officer who arrested Rox said that her speech was slurred and she had a hard time keeping her eyes open. Two prescription medications were detected in Rox's blood work after her arrest, according to the news source, and the blood tests found no alcohol.

Similarly, in Utah, Lycia Kae Martinez admitted to being impaired by prescription medications when she drove a group of students and teachers on a field trip in October 2014. Adults on the bus and motorists called 911, saying the bus was drifting into other lanes and getting dangerously close to other vehicles, Deseret News reported. Charging documents stated that when Martinez was arrested, investigators found pill bottles in her purse for Clonidine, Cyclobenzaprine, Xanax, and Meloxicam, and toxicology tests showed Clonidine and Xanax in amounts exceeding the recommended daily dosage, according to the newspaper.

Are school bus drivers being properly educated in the full effects of these drugs? Are medical professionals, including those on the National Registry, fully aware of the potential impact these drugs could have on a driver’s performance?

Meanwhile, there appears to also be an uptick in the use of illicit drugs. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal reports that the number of workers in the U.S. testing positive for use of drugs such as marijuana, heroin, or methamphetamine has reached the highest level in a decade, even in the safety-sensitive workforce, which includes school bus drivers. Among safety-sensitive workers, positive tests rose to 1.8% from 1.7% in 2015, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper also reports that the spike, which started in 2012, overlaps with legislation that passed in Colorado and Washington allowing recreational use of marijuana. More than 20 other states have legalized marijuana in some form since then, and eight states are voting on allowing either medical or recreational use of the drug this November.

However, although states that have legalized marijuana use in some form have shown higher positivity rates of the drug, those numbers have not increased in Colorado and Washington since 2014, Dr. Barry Sample, director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics Inc.’s employer solutions business, told The Wall Street Journal.

I am curious to learn how school transportation providers have responded to these developments, particularly in states that have recently legalized marijuana use in some form or have it on the ballot this November. Do you have heightened safety and confidentiality concerns over this? Please leave your comments in the section below or feel free to email us at info@schoolbusfleet.com.  

About the author
Nicole Schlosser

Nicole Schlosser

Former Executive Editor

Nicole was an editor and writer for School Bus Fleet. She previously worked as an editor and writer for Metro Magazine, School Bus Fleet's sister publication.

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