Ala. Officials: Drugged Driving Increasing, But Time-Consuming to Prove

More drivers are hitting the roads in Alabama under the influence of prescription drugs, but it takes police officers a lot of time to perform a sobriety test that the courts will accept, the TimesDaily reported Nov. 17.

“We’re getting pounded by painkillers,” said Cpl. Chad Blankinchip, who teaches at the Alabama Criminal Justice Training Center. “Marijuana is still the most common because people think it’s undetectable, but painkillers are right up there with it.”

Police have taken samples of drivers’ saliva to determine drug use, but although such tests are accurate, they are costly and state courts tend not to accept them. Instead, many law enforcement agencies have employed officers who are trained to field-test suspects and testify in court when called as expert witnesses in drugged-driving cases.

Performing a full evaluation can take an hour or more, Blankinchip said. In addition to collecting statements from a stopped driver, officers look for dilated pupils and injection sites, take the driver’s pulse and other vital signs, and have them go to the hospital for a toxicity screening. Only then does the officer charge the suspect. 

“That’s a drawback and a concern because there’s really nothing that can be done to speed up the process right now,” Blankinchip said.

According to Town Creek Police Chief Jerry Garrett, it is easier to detect alcohol or marijuana use because the officer can smell them. “Officers have to pay close attention to the drivers. A sobriety test can only go so far. One of the biggest arguments I hear from suspects of drug DUI is, ’I have a prescription for it.’”

Garrett said that although drivers understand the connection between drinking and driving, “they’re not using their brains at all when it comes to popping pills and getting behind the wheel of a car.”

Ala. Officials: Drugged Driving Increasing, But Time-Consuming to Prove

More drivers are hitting the roads in Alabama under the influence of prescription drugs, but it takes police officers a lot of time to perform a sobriety test that the courts will accept, the TimesDaily reported Nov. 17.

“We're getting pounded by painkillers,” said Cpl. Chad Blankinchip, who teaches at the Alabama Criminal Justice Training Center. “Marijuana is still the most common because people think it's undetectable, but painkillers are right up there with it.”

Police have taken samples of drivers' saliva to determine drug use, but although such tests are accurate, they are costly and state courts tend not to accept them. Instead, many law enforcement agencies have employed officers who are trained to field-test suspects and testify in court when called as expert witnesses in drugged-driving cases.

Performing a full evaluation can take an hour or more, Blankinchip said. In addition to collecting statements from a stopped driver, officers look for dilated pupils and injection sites, take the driver's pulse and other vital signs, and have them go to the hospital for a toxicity screening. Only then does the officer charge the suspect. 

“That's a drawback and a concern because there's really nothing that can be done to speed up the process right now,” Blankinchip said.

According to Town Creek Police Chief Jerry Garrett, it is easier to detect alcohol or marijuana use because the officer can smell them. “Officers have to pay close attention to the drivers. A sobriety test can only go so far. One of the biggest arguments I hear from suspects of drug DUI is, 'I have a prescription for it.'”

Garrett said that although drivers understand the connection between drinking and driving, “they're not using their brains at all when it comes to popping pills and getting behind the wheel of a car.”