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Study Probes Why Truckers Use Booze, Illicit Drugs

Office on Women's Health
Health Headlines (OWH)

October 22, 2013

Studies of substance abuse by truckers show varying results, but at least some drivers turn to alcohol or illicit drugs while behind the wheel, a new review finds.

Younger, less well-paid truckers were at higher risk for substance abuse on the job, the study found.

"The results of this review are a cause for concern, not only for truck drivers using psychoactive substances, but also for the general public," Allard van der Beek, of the Institute for Health and Care Research at VU University in Amsterdam, wrote in a commentary on the study.

The new review, led by Edmarlon Girotto, of the State University of Londrina, in Londrina, Brazil, looked at data from 36 studies conducted in a number of countries worldwide.

Most of the studies took place in large countries such as Australia, the United States and Brazil; 23 relied on surveys of drivers instead of the testing of their biological samples.

"[Drugs and alcohol] have been proved to impair driving and cause a greater risk of traffic accidents," Girotto's team wrote in the Oct. 17 issue of the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. "Therefore, gas stations, trucker stops and companies that employ these professionals must be more closely observed regarding the sale and consumption of these substances."

Together, the studies show that truckers most frequently use alcohol, amphetamines (speed), marijuana and cocaine. But the results of the studies varied widely between studies, with drinking on the job ranging from 0.1 percent of truckers to 91 percent, amphetamine use from 0.2 percent to 82.5 percent, marijuana use from 0.2 percent to 30 percent and cocaine use from 0.1 percent to 8 percent.

The percentages were lower when studies relied on biological samples instead of questionnaires, but the researchers said the samples only revealed recent use of alcohol and illicit substances -- not whether a trucker had ever used these substances while on the road.

Twelve studies tried to figure out key factors increasing the likelihood of truckers using drugs on the job. The groups that appeared most likely to do so included younger truckers, those who go on longer trips, those who drive more at night, those who drink alcohol, those who get fewer hours of rest, and those who were paid below union-recommended rates or were paid based on their job performance.

Van der Beek said alcohol and marijuana make it harder for truckers to react quickly, and amphetamines can spell trouble for their health in the long term.

More information

There's more on impaired driving at the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


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