Increase in drugged driving has more officers receiving special training

Increase in drugged driving has more officers receiving special training
Published: Dec. 5, 2016 at 12:34 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 5, 2016 at 6:01 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - The issue of drugged driving is rising on Ohio roads, and to combat that trend more officers are being trained as drug recognition experts (DREs).

Usually DRE training is held in Columbus but we were at the first regional training class for Ohio DREs, held at the Richland County Sheriff's Department.

We previously went through the highway patrol's data and found that about a quarter of all DUI crashes in 2016 were due to drugs. Those numbers were slightly higher in Lorain, Summit and Stark counties, and statewide, about a third of all DUI crashes were due to drugs.

And the problem is only getting worse.

"Even though we had a lot of advancement in reducing drunk driving we're actually starting to see an increase in drugged driving," said Adam Burkhardt the state coordinator of the DRE program for the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

DREs train to recognize the more subtle clues of drivers under the influence of drugs. The class is intense and not everyone passes.

The students in the class learned special tests to administer to people who may be on the road under the influence. In addition to typical field sobriety tests, DREs learned how to take blood pressure and check pupils, and also learned how different drugs affect the brain differently.

"We're not doctors, doctors diagnose people," said Joe Abrusci, one of the teachers in the DRE class and a special officer in the state of New Jersey. "We're not making a diagnosis. What we're doing is identifying, based on medically documented training and information, being able to identify indicators of drug impairment."

DREs learned a 12-step process that they will rely on to make their evaluations in the field. The training is supposed to allow officers to pick up on more subtle clues to determine if a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or if a driver is potentially having a medical issue behind the wheel.

The DRE program has been around since the late 70s and was started in California. Ohio was the 48th state to start using it. Over the past five years, 170 Ohio cops from 68 different agencies have obtained the special training.

The DREs utilize a 12-step process to assess their suspects:

1. Breath Alcohol Test

The arresting officer reviews the subject's breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) test results and determines if the subject's apparent impairment is consistent with the subject's BrAC. If so, the officer will not normally call a DRE. If the impairment is not explained by the BrAC, the officer requests a DRE evaluation.

2. Interview of the Arresting Officer

The DRE begins the investigation by reviewing the BrAC test results and discussing the circumstances of the arrest with the arresting officer. The DRE asks about the subject's behavior, appearance, and driving. The DRE also asks if the subject made any statements regarding drug use and if the arresting officer(s) found any other relevant evidence consistent with drug use.

3. Preliminary Examination and First Pulse

The DRE conducts a preliminary examination, in large part, to ascertain whether the subject may be suffering from an injury or other condition unrelated to drugs. Accordingly, the DRE asks the subject a series of standard questions relating to the subject's health and recent ingestion of food, alcohol and drugs, including prescribed medications. The DRE observes the subject's attitude, coordination, speech, breath and face. The DRE also determines if the subject's pupils are of equal size and if the subject's eyes can follow a moving stimulus and track equally. The DRE also looks for horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) and takes the subject's pulse for the first of three times. The DRE takes each subject's pulse three times to account for nervousness, check for consistency and determine if the subject is getting worse or better. If the DRE believes that the subject may be suffering from a significant medical condition, the DRE will seek medical assistance immediately. If the DRE believes that the subject's condition is drug-related, the evaluation continues.

4. Eye Examination

The DRE examines the subject for HGN, vertical gaze Nystagmus (VGN) and a for a lack of ocular convergence. A subject lacks convergence if his eyes are unable to converge toward the bridge of his nose when a stimulus is moved inward. Depressants, inhalants, and dissociative anesthetics, the so-called "DID drugs", may cause HGN. In addition, the DID drugs may cause VGN when taken in higher doses for that individual. The DID drugs, as well as cannabis (marijuana), may also cause a lack of convergence.

5. Divided Attention Psychophysical Tests

The DRE administers four psychophysical tests: the Romberg Balance, the Walk and Turn, the One-Leg Stand, and the Finger-to-Nose tests. The DRE can accurately determine if a subject's psychomotor and/or divided attention skills are impaired by administering these tests.

6. Vital Signs and Second Pulse

The DRE takes the subject's blood pressure, temperature and pulse. Some drug categories may elevate the vital signs. Others may lower them. Vital signs provide valuable evidence of the presence and influence of a variety of drugs.

7. Dark Room Examinations

The DRE estimates the subject's pupil sizes under three different lighting conditions with a measuring device called a pupilometer. The device will assist the DRE in determining whether the subject's pupils are dilated, constricted, or normal. Some drugs increase pupil size (dilate), while others may decrease (constrict) pupil size. The DRE also checks for the eyes' reaction to light. Certain drugs may slow the eyes' reaction to light. Finally, the DRE examines the subject's nasal and oral cavities for signs of drug ingestion.

8. Examination for Muscle Tone

The DRE examines the subject's skeletal muscle tone. Certain categories of drugs may cause the muscles to become rigid. Other categories may cause the muscles to become very loose and flaccid.

9. Check for Injection Sites and Third Pulse

The DRE examines the subject for injection sites, which may indicate recent use of certain types of drugs. The DRE also takes the subject's pulse for the third and final time.

10. Subject's Statements and Other Observations

The DRE typically reads Miranda, if not done so previously, and asks the subject a series of questions regarding the subject's drug use.

11. Analysis and Opinions of the Evaluator

Based on the totality of the evaluation, the DRE forms an opinion as to whether or not the subject is impaired. If the DRE determines that the subject is impaired, the DRE will indicate what category or categories of drugs may have contributed to the subject's impairment. The DRE bases these conclusions on his training and experience and the DRE Drug Symptomatology Matrix. While DREs use the drug matrix, they also rely heavily on their general training and experience.

12. Toxicological Examination

After completing the evaluation, the DRE normally requests a urine, blood and/or saliva sample from the subject for a toxicology lab analysis.

Nothing in or about the DRE protocol is new or novel. The DRE protocol is a compilation of tests that physicians have used for decades to identify and assess alcohol- and/or drug-induced impairment.

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