As the opioid epidemic continues to rise across the nation, the local police departments have been training to become better at recognizing prescription drug impaired driving. “In the case of an accident unless they are extremely impaired, which is not always the case with drug impaired drivers the detection may go unnoticed,” said by Efren Carmona, the Public Information Officer of the Mesa Police Department.
Identifying drug impairment opposed to alcohol related impairment has posed a challenge for most law enforcement’s. However, the Police Departments across Metro Area is improving their task force and resources to distinguish drug impaired drivers.
The Scottsdale, Mesa, and Phoenix Police Departments, have been increasing their resources with the overdose- reversing drug, Narcan, and has supplied and trained majority of their law enforcement with it as well.
In September, the State of Arizona received $3.1 million in federal taxpaying money, to help combat the opioid epidemic. The grant is meant to help train responders to use overdose-reversing drugs, such as Narcan and Naloxone, as well as treatment.
In June, the Scottsdale Police Department was the first department to issue Narcan to their patrolmen. “With the Governors help, we were the first department to issue Narcan to all our patrolmen,” said, Kevin Watts, the Scottsdale’s Police Department Public Information Officer, “We have 300 employees carrying Narcan.”
Since June, Scottsdale PD has used Narcan on nine people, “It was highly likely if we didn’t use it, they (the nine individuals) could’ve died,” said Watts.
Carmona explained that in most cases of drug impairment, the driver has decreased reaction times and impaired decisions, often presumed as a careless driver. When careless driving is reported, a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) officer, along with another officer will also report to the scene. Layden says the Drug Recognition Experts utilize their skills to, “…administer an evaluation that helps them determine the drug categories impairing a driver.”
The Mesa Police Department currently has 26 Drug Recognition Experts (DRE’s), with majority of them in the Traffic Division. Due to the length training process, Mesa PD continues to face challenges to train more policemen to become DRE certified. Carmona said, “The problem is the training is very difficult and long (4 weeks) and requires continuous training to re-certify.”
As for the Scottsdale PD, there DRE team is prominent at night, but also is sent out during fatal crashes or other types of collisions, when impairment is speculated. During basic training, officers are trained to recognize signs of impairment and will call in DRE officers to further investigate.
The Phoenix Police Department has also provided their officers with additional resources to become better at recognizing impairment. Layden said, “Officers may also attend Advanced Roadside Impaired Driver Enforcement training to obtain training on recognizing drug impaired drivers.”
When impairment is suspected in the incident, the arrest will be listed as a DUI, Driving Under the Influence. Even though, on site law enforcement can’t detect drug impairment as easily as alcohol impairment, law enforcement can collect blood to confirm suspects of drug and/or alcohol impairment.
Prescription drugs are more commonly abused, compared to street drugs. These drugs are often prescribed by a physician. Yet, medical marijuana is not considered prescribed, it is considered recommended by the physician. Carmona believes if it were prescribed it would be considered the most abused.
Layden specified saying, “The most common encountered prescription drugs, reference impaired driving, are the opioids and depressants. The opioids vary from oxycodone, codeine, fentanyl, heroin and many others.”