MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) – A study from West Virginia University has found that the number of motor vehicle collision injuries in West Virginia involving alcohol and drug use increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to WVU Today.

Published in Injury Epidemiology, the study was led by Toni Marie Rudisill, assistant professor in the WVU School of Public Health, and included pre-med student Lucie Steinmetz and Dr. James Bardes, assistant professor in the Department of Surgery’s Division of Trauma, Acute Care Surgery and Surgical Critical Care.

Toni Marie Rudisill, assistant professor, WVU School of Public Health (WVU Photo)

The researchers, based on studies which indicated that the increased stress from the pandemic was contributing to a rise of drug and alcohol use, looked into patients who were treated at Jon Michael Moore Trauma Center in Morgantown.

“It was important to determine what was happening here in West Virginia and if we were following the same trend,” Rudisill said. “Our findings may be generalizable to West Virginia. However, we are unsure if our findings would be generalizable to other rural areas.”

The records of 1,465 patients ages 18 and older who were treated for motor vehicle-related injuries during a pre-COVID-19 period (Sept. 1, 2018, to March 15, 2020) and those treated during a COVID-19 period (March 16, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021) were analyzed and compared.

A blood test was used to determine a patient’s alcohol use, and a urine test was used to detect the presence of drugs, including cannabinoids, opioids, stimulants and depressants.

Rudisill said, “it is entirely possible that a patient may have consumed an opioid before the crash, but then received one as part of their care during transport to the trauma center. For that reason, those individuals’ results would be excluded from the analysis as we would not be able to determine if the opioids in their system were taken before the crash or administered by EMS on the way to the trauma center.”

The study found that the number of patients who tested positive for drugs was 31% greater during the COVID-19 period, including stimulants, opioids and cannabis, while depressant use decreased. Of these patients, 57%, were male and between the ages of 20 and 45, 84% were drivers of the vehicles and 72% were wearing seatbelts, with most of the crashes occurring on a weekday.

“Researchers concluded that, although further studies could investigate whether drug and alcohol use among drivers in West Virginia changed after September 2021, public health interventions may be needed in the state to curb the activity,” according to WVU Today.

The study was supported by the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute, housed at WVU and received funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.