Hamilton County Starting To Track Drugged Drivers

Sep 8, 2015

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Department says because of a visible increase in the number of drivers under the influence of drugs, it is starting to keep track of drug impaired drivers. Sergeant Mike Tarr says this will help the department know where and when to patrol.

Just last month there were two such examples:

On August 21, Sam Haynes shouted to Sandra Harris to pull over because she was driving erratically on I-275 in Anderson Township. A video he shot went viral. Harris later admitted to Hamilton County Sheriff's Investigators she had used heroin and meth. She has been charged with OVI.

In another incident on August 31, motorist Sean French pulled over a man on I-71 near I-275 who was driving erratically with a baby in the backseat. That driver was allegedly impaired and was charged with  OVI.

Tarr emphasizes drugged driving is not new. He says the Los Angeles Police Department started the Drug Recognition Experts Program (DRE), which Ohio now uses, in the 1970s. "Heroin's kind of brought things to the forefront. We see a lot of heroin, OVI and OVI heroin crashes during the day and that's kind of the nature of heroin."

He estimates 20-to-30 percent of OVI stops and crashes are drug related. The most common drugs people are under the influence of when driving are heroin, marijuana, opiates, and depressants.

How often do people drive drugged?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) 2013-2014 survey of drivers found that 22 percent of people tested positive for illegal, prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Illegal drug use increased at night. There was more prescription drug use during the day.

How often do drugged drivers cause accidents?

The NHTSA admits there aren't good methods to track that data because a good roadside test for drug use doesn't exist. People aren't usually tested for drugs if they are above the legal limit for alcohol, and many drivers have both alcohol and drugs in their system, making it difficult to know which substance had the greater effect.

From the National Institute on Drug Abuse website:

One NHTSA study found that in 2009, 18 percent of drivers killed in an accident tested positive for at least one drug—an increase from 13 percent in 2005 (NHTSA, 2010). A 2010 study showed that 11.4 percent of fatal crashes involved a drugged driver (Wilson, 2010).

Which drugs are most associated with drugged driving?

The National Roadside Survey 2013-2014 reports after alcohol, marijuana (37 percent) was most often linked to drugged driving and 10 percent had used cocaine.  "...12.6 percent of drivers on weekend nights tested positive for THC. This was significantly higher than the 8.6 percent who tested positive in 2007."

The most common prescription drugs people tested positive for while driving  in a 2010 survey were:

  • alprazolam (Xanax®)—12.1 percent
  • hydrocodone (Vicodin®)—11.1 percent
  • oxycodone (OxyContin®)—10.2 percent
  • diazepam (Valium®)—8.4 percent

WVXU called Butler, Clermont and Boone Counties to find out if they track drugged driving. Those calls were not returned in time for this story.

What is the U.K. doing?

This year England and Wales passed a new law regulating what drugs drivers could take and how much they could take.  Professor David Taylor, Director of Pharmacy and Pathology, King's College, London, was instrumental in the new regulations. He says drivers could be prosecuted if police, through blood and saliva tests, detect the presence of eight illegal and eight prescription drugs. "We've got this mixture of zero tolerance for illicit substances and what you might call evidence of increased risk of an accident for the legal medicines."

Early reports suggest 40-to-56 percent of drivers involved in accidents have tested positive for drugs.

A "drugalyzer" tests for marijuana and cocaine at the scene of traffic stops using saliva. If an officer suspects other drugs the driver is taken to the police station for a blood test. Taylor says, "My own research, which looks at chat rooms on the Internet, suggests that people are rather angry about this imposition of the law." Others, he says, are upset that police were slow to enforce the new law and have demanded police do drug testing.