2018 Research Project

Opioids at the Health and Transportation Safety Nexus

Principal Investigator
Chris Cherry
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
View Bio

Steve Marshall
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
View Bio

Becky Naumann

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
View Bio

Full Report

Appendix Tables (enlarge to read)

Project Slide Deck

Research Brief


The rate of opioid-related deaths is higher than that of road crashes (CNN 2017). The dual health challenges of opioids and car crashes have overlapping elements; opioid use contributes to car crashes and injuries from car crashes contribute to opioid use. There is a strong and immediate need to understand the prevalence of opioid prescription after a traffic-related crash, and how often that prescription leads to future negative outcomes. This research aims to understand data systems that can evaluate these relationships and develop a system map that will aid in understanding the extent of this dual problem. Ultimately, it will provide evidence to assist the medical and public health community in better understanding the impact of prescribing opioids for acute pain relief after a traffic crash, and for transportation professionals to help understand the systems impact of opioid use on traffic safety.

This is the first phase of a two-phase study. In Phase 1, we will review opioid monitoring programs and data across states hardest hit by opioid addiction, investigate promise and barriers of data available to explore the relationship between opioids and crashes, develop a system map of data and causal feedback relationships between addiction, crashes, and prescription rates. Finally, we will recommend a series of research directions and hypotheses that are enabled by such datasets and monitoring systems. The proposed research is exploratory and carries some risk (i.e., it may be technically or institutionally impossible to link datasets), thus we are proposing a phased approach. This work also will follow up on efforts from the R4 (Complete Picture of Traffic Crashes) project. Specifically, this project has the goal of increasing understanding data opportunities to understand the role of opioids in traffic crashes and the role of crashes in opioid use. To achieve this goal, we propose four Objectives.

Objective 1: Provide a scan of states with opioid monitoring programs that can be linked with crash and other datasets.

Objective 2: We will investigate linkage opportunities in at least two states, starting with Tennessee and Ohio.

Objective 3: Develop a health system map on the linkage between opioids and traffic safety.

Objective 4: Test linkage methods and preliminary analysis on at least one state’s data (e.g., Tennessee TITAN crash data with CSMD and other health data) to identify barriers and opportunities toward answering causal questions on opioids and crashes.

Objective 5: Generate a list of research questions and hypotheses that could be feasibly be investigated with further analysis across different state systems. By learning from Objectives 1-4, we will be able to identify the ability of research teams to use the data to test hypotheses on crashes and opioid use. Understanding linkage validity, feasibility, and overall sample size and longitudinal continuity will be among the areas explored.

This project is exploratory. There are two main outcomes: 1) This project will generate a report that identifies a system map for the linkage of prescription opioid and traffic safety data. The second outcome 2) will be the generation of a set of research questions that will contribute to further investigation in phase 2 (and a Phase 2 proposal).

Project Details

Project Type: Research
Project Status: Active
Start Date: 7-1-2018
End Date: 1-31-2021
Contract Year: Year 2
Total Funding from CSCRS: $77,670
Collaborating Organizations: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill