DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Police can recite one incident after another where motorists were driving while impaired not only under the influence of alcohol and illegal drugs, but also under the influence of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Guy Dow recalls one instance of stopping a female driver who had her two grandchildren in her vehicle as passengers. The driver happened to be under the influence of OxyContin, a narcotic pain reliever.
“It’s something we encounter pretty regularly,” said Shawn Green, a patrol officer with the Bangor Police Department. “We’re basically an overdiagnosed and overmedicated society. Everybody has medication and people underestimate the effects that a medication can have on them, even if it’s legally prescribed, never mind those who are taking drugs illicitly on top of medication or in combination with alcohol.”
Piscataquis County law enforcement have encountered a big problem involving methadone, according to Dave Wilson, an investigator with the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department. Residents drive to the three clinics in Bangor to get their doses of methadone but by the time they drive back to Piscataquis County, the methadone has impaired their ability to operate a motor vehicle, he said. A number of them fall asleep on their way home, which has caused a number of accidents, he said Tuesday.
Green and Wilson, both trained drug recognition experts, spent two days Tuesday and Wednesday teaching law enforcement officers from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts how better to identify drug impairment through an Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement class held in Dover-Foxcroft.
Police from Kennebunkport, Cape Elizabeth, Brownville, and Dexter, and investigators from the Piscataquis and Sagadahoc county sheriff’s departments, the Boxborough, Mass., Police Department and the New Hampshire Harbor Patrol participated.
The class was designed as an advanced operating-under-the-influence-of-intoxicants class — an introduction to concepts of drug impairment, Green said. “It gives them insight into drug impairment, essentially, it teaches them some of the signs and symptoms of drug impairment specifically as it relates to eye indicators,” he said. The new education and the tools provided through the course will help them detect the drug-impaired driver, he said.
Green said similar classes have been held in several other locations in the state.
“It’s definitely made officers who participate in the class much more aware,” Green said. These officers are able to detect what drugs may be involved which would necessitate a trained drug recognition expert to respond on scene.
“In addition to your standard OUI and alcohol offense driver, we know that there’s a serious problem with people driving under the influence of drugs and or medication or a combination of those with alcohol,” Green said.
A drug is any substance that, when taken into the human body, can impair the ability of a person to operate a vehicle safely. These can include anxiety pills, over-the-counter cough medicines, sleeping pills, muscle relaxants and pain relievers, according to Green and Wilson. “People need to be aware of what their own prescriptions can do to them,” Wilson said.
“Obviously, we’re trying to make an effort to keep the roads that much safer and for those people who choose to use drugs and make the decision to drive, they need to know there are officers out there who are trained to detect them and who will take enforcement action,” Green said. “They need to understand the state law in Maine allows for us to make an arrest based on impairment regardless of what causes that impairment.”