State agencies tackling drugged driving

State police cruiser (file).

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (WTNH) — When you think of impaired drivers you normally think of drunk drivers. But state police say with the opioid crisis, they’re seeing a rise in drug-impaired drivers.

AAA is working with law enforcement to try to put the brakes on what’s becoming a new definition of the word highway.

“It’s a growing problem,” said Amy Parmenter of AAA. “Once you start to be aware of it, you start to hear about it more and more.”

There are two drug-impaired crashes that Amy says illustrates this problem on our roads. One happened just this week in Providence, Rhode Island. A driver crashed into a restaurant there. No one was hurt, but emergency crews had to give the driver Narcan. It’s used to treat narcotic overdose in an emergency situation. Witnesses say the driver “passed out”.

The other drug-impaired crash Amy points to was deadly. It happened here in Connecticut in October on I-91 in Windsor Locks. Police say a woman admitted to using several bags of heroin before getting behind the wheel and hitting another driver — killing him.

Local police will tell you it’s difficult to put an exact number on how many drug-impaired drivers there are because Connecticut’s crash records do not differentiate between alcohol-impaired and drug-impaired.

“An impaired driver is an impaired driver,” said David Hartman, spokesman of the New Haven Police Department. “Whether it’s impacted by liquor or alcohol, they shouldn’t be in that car.”

But Amy points to those two incidents mentioned earlier as evidence that they are getting behind the wheel.

“If that’s not enough to scare you into realizing this problem is very real in Connecticut and elsewhere, I’m not sure what would be.”

So, what’s being done to put the brakes on this? Last year, AAA held a statewide summit about drug-impaired driving with police across Connecticut, members of the public and Governor Malloy. One plan that emerged from that summit was giving some police officers and state troopers advanced training to become Drug Recognition Experts. Right now, there are 30 DRE’s across Connecticut, including state trooper, Donald Bostock.

“I constantly run into people on the roads who I arrested for impaired driving and they question why because they haven’t been drinking at all when, in fact, they do admit to taking drugs,” said Trooper Bostock. “A lot of people are driving under the influence of drugs not realizing it’s a problem…it’s definitely a concern, it’s a growing problem especially with all of the efforts to legalize marijuana.”

Amy says AAA is on an aggressive campaign to raise awareness and drive this issue home to people across the country. They’re also pushing for better record keeping when it comes to drug-impaired drivers. The problem is, it’s easier to detect alcohol in someone’s system than it is to test for drugs at the time of a traffic stop. Trooper Bostock says his training as a DRE could help that — and — send a message in court.

“The role of the DRE comes more into play in the prosecution side where we can provide better evidence — one — that impairment was taking place and 2 — what the substances were,” said Trooper Bostock. “We like to be backed up by toxicology in the event that a blood or urine sample is not obtained, we still have evidence that can be used in court to help secure prosecutions and keep the impaired drivers off the road….drugs and/or alcohol are involved in many of our serious crashes and unfortunately, people are being hurt, people are being killed and a lot of times it’s not the people who have ingested these substances.”

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