PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The dangers of getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated are well documented, but noteworthy new research finds a troublingly large amount of bike injuries are connected to drugs on an annual basis. Scientists report that between just 2019-2020 over 11,000 people who had been using drugs were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for injuries sustained while riding a bicycle.
“When these patients present to the emergency department, it becomes important not only to treat the injuries but also to refer patients to drug treatment in an effort to intervene and prevent further negative events related to drug use,” says lead study author Bart Hammig, of the Public Health Program at the University of Arkansas, in a release.
Moreover, study authors add that the usual precautions, such as wearing a helmet and improved bike lanes, may not be enough to reduce drug-related bike injuries. Why? In most cases it is “unlikely that the person was riding the bike for exercise.”
Instead, bicyclists under the influence of alcohol or another substance may be on the go due to reasons related to a substance use disorder. Examples cited by researchers include homelessness, license revocation due to a previous driving-while-intoxicated conviction, or financial instability. On a related note, all of those scenarios would also limit one’s ability/capacity to drive a car for transportation as well.
“This is an often overlooked and ignored population when discussing bicycle injuries,” Dr. Hammig adds, “but one that stakeholders such as emergency department personnel, drug treatment centers and transportation officials need to consider when trying to prevent future injuries.”
Bicycle crash victims who are intoxicated often experience more serious injuries than others. According to the study, common reported injuries include fractures (22%) and internal organ injuries (19%). Nearly a third of all considered patients had to be admitted to the hospital. Concussions, meanwhile, were rare (1%), and eight percent of bicycle crashes resulted from drug poisonings. Since the data used for this project was provided by hospitals, people who passed away at the scene of the crash were not included.
Far more men (86.4%) suffered bicycle crashes than women, and the drugs most commonly seen in victims’ systems were methamphetamine (36.4%), cannabis (30.7%) and opioids (18.5%). Close to a quarter also had alcohol in their system.
Researchers made these conclusions based on a review of 2019–2020 data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a hospital-based database. This nationally representative sample of U.S. hospitals allowed study authors to estimate the number of drug-related bike incidents on a nationwide scale. After extracting all data related to bicycle injuries in connection to psychoactive drugs (besides alcohol), study authors estimate there were 11,314 injuries, accounting for 2.6 percent of the overall estimated 480,286 bicycle injuries seen during the studied time period.
In summation, study authors admit that it will be difficult to curb the rate of drug-related bicycle accidents, mostly because there are so many personal contributing factors and circumstances at play in each case. That being said, they believe further surveillance, data collection, and research will eventually help produce new methods to prevent such injuries.
The study is published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.