Biking While High on Meth, Opioids Is Sending Thousands to ER

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MONDAY, Sept. 26, 2022 (HealthDay News) -- Biking while stoned leads to thousands of serious crashes each year, a new study suggests.

Between 2019 and 2020 alone, more than 11,000 people were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for injuries that happened as they rode a bicycle while high on methamphetamine, marijuana or opioids, researchers found.

"The people affected by these injuries likely have substance use disorder, may be more likely to be homeless and may not have access to other types of transportation," explained lead researcher Bart Hammig, a professor of public health at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. "This is an often overlooked and ignored population when addressing serious injuries related to bicycle crashes."

One way to curb these crashes is to get these drugged individuals off their bikes, he said.

"Better and easier access to transportation for persons who may use bicycles as their main mode of transportation is needed in order to aid in the prevention of injuries among this population," he said. "In addition to treatment of injuries, drug referral systems need to be readily accessible in emergency departments."

Hammig and his University of Arkansas colleague Robert Davis, an assistant professor of public health, found that bicyclists who crashed while high often had more serious injuries than those who weren't using drugs.

Most of those injured were men (86%), according to the study. Of those, 22% had broken bones; 19% injured internal organs; and almost 33% had to be hospitalized. In all, 1% suffered a concussion.

Some likely resulted in deaths, but because the data came from emergency room records, researchers couldn't report on fatalities.

The most common drugs found were methamphetamine (36%); marijuana (32%); and opioids (19%). Nearly a quarter of injured bikers had also been drinking alcohol, the study found.

For the study, researchers used data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. Of more than 480,000 injuries reported between 2019 and 2020, about 3% involved drugs.

Dr. Eugene Vortsman, an emergency room physician at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., said that riding a bike stoned can greatly increase the risk for crashes and serious injury.

He suspects that the number of crashes identified in the study is only the tip of the iceberg.

"Due to the limitations in data, this study is underestimating the true severity of the incidence, as well as the severity of injury associated with any intoxicant," Vortsman said. "Even with the data available, it is clear that the risk of injury is elevated."

More study is needed to learn about bikes for primary transportation and to find ways to lower the risk, Vortsman said.

Some examples include evaluating social factors affecting health to better earmark resources. Improving access to public transportation, better roadside safety measures, and education about the dangers of operating any mode of transportation while under the influence are key, he said.

"Proper education allows patients to better understand their risk of injury and can provide a safer road for them as well as other bicyclists," Vortsman said.

The study was recently published online in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

More information

For more about drug abuse, visit the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

SOURCES: Bart Hammig, PhD, MPH, professor, health, human performance and recreation, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; Eugene Vortsman, DO, emergency room physician, Long Island Jewish Medical Center, New Hyde Park, N.Y.; Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Aug. 1, 2022

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