BROOK PARK, OH (WOIO) - As the drug epidemic continues to grow in Northeast Ohio so does the number of people who are doing drugs and getting behind the wheel.
"We're running into it more and more as it becomes a wider spread problem in society," said Drug Recognition Expert Trooper Rob Gable.
It's a problem that's growing nationwide. According to the Ohio Department of Health, the number of people who died from an unintentional opiate overdose is more than eight times higher than it was in 2003.
And closer to home, according to the Cuyahoga County Opiate Task Force, deaths involving opioids have more than quadrupled since 1999, "surpassing deaths from suicides, homicides and falls."
"All types of drugs - illicit illegal drugs as well as prescription drug abuse - all of those things are things that carry over into the roadway and become problems. Safety problems for all of those people who are trying to get from one place to another," said Gable.
For the first time, the Ohio State Highway Patrol has started keeping track of drugged drivers separate from drunk drivers in their operating a vehicle under the influence statistics. Gable said this is because it's become such a big issue, and the extra data helps police figure out just how big of a problem it is, and how many resources they need to devote to fight it.
We obtained numbers for OVI crashes from the highway patrol. The crash numbers include data from all law enforcement agencies not just the OSHP. The data showed that just in Cuyahoga County this year to date, about a quarter of all crashes in which a driver was under the influence – that influence was drugs. Those numbers were slightly higher in Lorain, Summit and Stark counties. Statewide those numbers showed about a third of all DUI crashes, 31.9 percent, were because of drugs.
Another thing we noticed was especially in comparison to those who used alcohol and crashed their vehicles, the data showed there's more drunk drivers on the roads at night, and more specifically on Friday and Saturday nights. Drugged drivers involved in crashes appear to be out any time any day.
"With alcohol, the trend is for alcohol to be more of a party substance. People that are under the influence of alcohol are out to have a good time. They get impaired and then they try to drive under the influence. What we see a lot of times with drug impairment is people aren't necessarily out to have a good time but they're out to maintain some sense of well-being," said Gable. "They're going through or potentially going to go through withdrawal so they're out to try to get their metered dose something that's going to keep them from falling into withdrawal…that can happen any time of the day, any day of the week."
Research also shows that the numbers of drugged drivers may be higher than the statistics show, because drivers who are drunk behind the wheel may also be using drugs. And Gable admitted in many cases, if someone is clearly impaired by alcohol, troopers only test further for drugs under specific circumstances.
Drug OVI Crashes All OVI Crashes
Cuyahoga 194 743
Lorain 58 199
Stark 83 294
Summit 125 413
Statewide 2868 8963
"If someone's already determined to be impaired by alcohol a lot of times we won't continue with a drug impairment evaluation because the alcohol influence will over shadow a lot of the symptoms signs and indicators of drug impairment," added Gable.
Which is why Gable and others are trained Drug Recognition Experts. He, and others with the training, look for specific signs to see if someone is driving under the influence of drugs. Two of the tests include, measuring a driver's blood pressure, and pupils, but since different drugs have different effects there's a variety of things DREs look for.
"There's no one test there's a series of tests that need to be performed to determine number one if someone is under the influence or impaired, number two where that impairment might be coming from whether from alcohol or drugs or possibly from some sort of physical or mental or psychological problems, and thirdly to determine whether or not it's an impairing substance what kind of substance that person is under the influence of," said Gable.
It's not just illegal or illicit drugs that can impair your judgment or driving. Gable recommended that drivers always consult with their doctors before getting behind the wheel after taking any medicine, or changing any dosage.
Cleveland 19 has found the website roadwiserx.com, created by AAA, to get a general idea of how any medicines you're taking may affect drivers behind the wheel.
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