Drugged Driving: A WGEM News In-Depth Report - WGEM.com: Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

Drugged Driving: A WGEM News In-Depth Report

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Police photo from the scene of a drugged driving case in Quincy. Police photo from the scene of a drugged driving case in Quincy.
Dr. Steven Ginos, Blessing Physician Services Dr. Steven Ginos, Blessing Physician Services
Police photo from the scene of a drugged driving case in Quincy. Police photo from the scene of a drugged driving case in Quincy.
Police photo from the scene of a drugged driving case in Quincy. Police photo from the scene of a drugged driving case in Quincy.

Drugged driving has accelerated into a bigger problem than at any point in history, according to government data.

According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 10 million people aged 12 or older reported driving under the influence of illegal drugs during the year before being surveyed. 

Such statistics come as no surprise to Wayne Gilliland, a former meth addict who now serves as a drug counselor at Preferred Family Healthcare in Quincy. He believes that the problem of drugged driving is a lot worse than the average person realizes.

"You're not going to get anybody that comes into treatment that doesn't admit if they have a drivers licensee that they haven't (driven) to obtain (drugs) or while they were using," Gilliland said. "There's a lot more impairment on the roads than people actually have knowledge about."

Gilliland said he knew about the dangers of drugged driving firsthand.

I'd be lying to say that there weren't times when I was high on amphetamines or methamphetamine and drove. It was pretty common.

Gilliland further confessed that he had fallen asleep at the wheel as a consequence of being kept up for a long time by his drug use.

Federal data collected over nearly a decade points to a sharp rise in drivers using marijuana. A 2010 study found that cannabis affected drivers' speed, attention, reaction time, and it caused them to weave between lanes more.

Rosemary Trinkle, a specialist in DUI's at Preferred Family Healthcare, blamed society's shifting attitude on drug use for the rise in drugged driving.

"As drugs become more socially acceptable, more people fail to see the negative consequences of using, or the negative consequences of getting behind the wheel after you've just recently used," Trinkle said.

A study led by the Office of the National Drug Control Policy found that teenagers are now more likely to drive after smoking pot than drinking alcohol.

Attorney Casey Schnack, with Schnack Law Offices in Quincy, said that in Illinois, marijuana is treated differently than other drugs when it comes to driving under the influence.

"With marijuana now, they've been able to have a quantity similar to BAC," she said. "They have to have it at or above a certain amount of nanograms. With other sorts of drugs though, such as methamphetamine, the law is zero tolerance, meaning any amount of the drug in your system could lead to a DUI."

Quincy Police Sgt. James Brown said more relaxed laws are making drugged driving more difficult to fight.

"There's been a decrease in penalties for marijuana possession; a lot of people are able to go out and get medical cards where they can legally use it for certain medical issues," Brown said. "I would definitely say the drugged driving is up, but because of some of those changes and difficulties the arrests may be down."

As marijuana legislation continues to change and some lawmakers push toward legalization, cracking down on drugged driving becomes an even bigger puzzle for police.

Every time one thing changes it tweaks the whole system. So if a law changes, our training has to change, the State's Attorney's office has to catch up with their penalties. It's just kind of an ongoing process.

It's not just law enforcement and prosecutors who are adjusting to the new legal landscape with marijuana. Defense attorneys said this is uncharted waters.

"We really have yet to see how a card-carrying individual that is pulled over and charged with a drug-related DUI, how that is going to flesh out," said Schnack."It really hasn't been an issue yet, but it is a concern that could be on the horizon."

Schnack said that one common misconception is that a medical marijuana card can get them out of a DUI.

"Everybody who comes in here with the marijuana DUI asks 'well, if I get my card is it going to get me out of it'," she said. "No, it won't. Its not a retroactive application."

Gilliland urged parents and those who work with children to intervene when they see troubling signs before it's too late.

"It's about communicating with your kids," Gilliland said. "It's also about, if you're a teacher, recognizing the signs and symptoms and reaching them before it progresses to the point where they kill themselves or another on the road because ultimately that's what's going to happen."

Both Trinkle and Gilliland said Quincy police stressed that while marijuana is the biggest concern when it comes to drugged driving due do its popularity and availability, often overlooked are prescription drugs. These drugs are taken legally with a prescription, but people often underestimate the possible impact it could have on things like driving the car.

Doctor Steven Ginos, a doctor of family medicine at Blessing Physician Services, says that drowsy driving, which prescription medication can cause, can often be deadly.

One in six  fatal accidents is caused by drowsy driving; taking prescription medications causes drowsy driving. If you take a tranquilizer and you're over 65, you've increased your risk of drowsy driving and having a significant accident by five times. If you're taking an anti-depressant, you increase your chances of having a serious accident two times.

Another overlooked danger is the effects of mixing medications, according to Ginos.

"You take a pain medication, particularly a narcotic pain medication, you take a muscle relaxer for your back pain, you take a tranquilizer both as a muscle relaxant and some anxiety," Ginos warned. You take all three of those and you have a tremendous risk of drowsy driving. There are many, many people taking all of those combinations."

Ginos added that even over-the-counter medications contribute tho the problem of drugged driving, and it might be a bigger problem than is officially reported. One medication Ginos singled out was Benadryl, which he called the "worst offender."

"We don't do a test for Benadryl," Ginos stated."So if you're involved in an accident and you've been taking Benadryl, a police officer is not going to be able to say 'I need to do a breathalyzer on you for Benadryl'."

If you have questions about medications you might take, Walgreens has an online tool where you can look up the information yourself.


HOW OFTEN DOES DRUGGED DRIVING CAUSE CRASHES?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it's difficult to measure how many crashes are caused by drugged driving.

This is because:

  • A good roadside test for drug levels in the body doesn't yet exist
  • Police don't usually test for drugs if drivers have reached an illegal blood alcohol level because there's already enough evidence for a DUI charge
  • Many drivers who cause crashes are found to have both drugs and alcohol or more than one drug in their system, making it hard to know which substance had the greater effect

WHAT STEPS CAN PEOPLE TAKE TO PREVENT DRUGGED DRIVING?

Because drugged driving puts people at a higher risk for crashes, public health experts urge people who use drugs and alcohol to develop social strategies to prevent them from getting behind the wheel of a car while impaired.

Steps people can take include:

  • Offering to be a designated driver
  • Appointing a designated driver to take all car keys
  • Getting a ride to and from parties where there are drugs and alcohol
  • Discussing the risks of drugged driving with friends in advance

POINTS TO REMEMBER

  • Use of illicit drugs or misuse of prescription drugs can make driving a car unsafe—just like driving after drinking alcohol.
  • In 2014, 10 million people aged 12 or older reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs in the past year.
  • It's hard to measure how many crashes drugged driving causes.
  • After alcohol, marijuana is the drug most often linked to drugged driving.
  • In 2010, more than one-quarter of drugged drivers in fatal crashes were aged 50 years or older.
  • When lack of driving experience is combined with drug use, the results can be tragic.
  • People who use drugs and alcohol should develop social strategies to prevent them from getting behind the wheel of a car while impaired.

***Information above is according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse


"Eyes On" Research in Drugged Driving (Courtesy of the NIDA)

Cannabis Effects on Driving Performance (Courtesy of the NIDA)


HOW DO DRUGS AFFECT DRIVING SKILLS?

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has joined the fight against drugged driving. According to MADD, drugged driving, or substance impaired driving, is the detection of legal or illegal substances that impact driving ability. Poly abuse, is when a person mixes alcohol and drugs and gets behind the wheel.

  • Coordination:  Drugs can affect nerves and muscles, which makes steering, braking, accelerating, and manipulation of vehicle difficult.
  • Reaction time:  Drugs slow response and reaction times.
  • Judgment:  Drugs have cognitive effects that can hinder a person’s ability to assess risks and avoid potential hazards by decreasing fear and thus increasing risk-taking behavior.
  • Tracking:  Drugs inhibit a person’s ability to stay in their lane and maintain a safe distance from the car in front of them.
  • Attention:  Some drugs can make it difficult to focus and process information.
  • Perception: Since 90 percent of information processed by our brain while driving is visual, impaired vision due to drug use seriously hinders a person’s driving ability.
  • Bottom Line: Even small amounts of many drugs can have a measurable effect on driving ability.

***Information above is according to MADD

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