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New definition of DUI adds tool for law enforcement

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Sunday, March 31, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

In 2004, Pennsylvania changed its DUI laws to include the word “drug,” DUID, not just “controlled substances,” which traditionally covered only illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine.

And the number of DUID arrests has increased ever since.

In Pennsylvania in 2012, there were 50,000 DUI arrests. About 15,000, or 30 percent, of those were DUIDs, according to the Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

“The new law opened the floodgates to successfully prosecute any person impaired on any drug ranging from gasoline, bug and tar remover to designers drugs, prescription drugs,” said George Geisler, director of law enforcement services with the Pennsylvania DUI Association, eastern office in Harrisburg.

“Now, the new war is DUID,” said Cathy Tress, law enforcement liaison with the association.

A drug recognition expert and a police officer, Geisler trains police officers across the commonwealth to recognize the classic signs and symptoms of drug-impaired drivers.

“We examine drivers' eyes, their perception of time and distance, and then blood, pulse, body pressure and other indicators,” he said.

Geisler said, “We are looking at a tremendous switch to prescription drug abuse, over-the-counter drug abuse and of course, the designer drugs.”

Younger people feel comfortable with the manufacturing quality control of prescription drugs, Geisler said.

“They think that these drugs are ethical, and they don't have to go to a seedy area to get them,” he said.

Prescription drugs like the painkiller OxyContin and Ritalin are popular. Not surprisingly, sleep aids are causing problems.

“People are taking this Ambien (or other sleep aids) and not getting eight hours of sleep and are falling asleep while driving,” Geisler said.

Some patients at methadone clinics are causing havoc on the roads as well.

“People are taking methadone and driving when the light isn't so good. Methadone constricts their pupils, and they can't see well.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the International Association of Chiefs of Police developed the drug recognition expert program in the late 1970s in California.

Pennsylvania adopted the drug recognition expert program in 2004, the 39th state in the nation to do so, Geisler said.

About 121 drug recognition expert police officers work in the commonwealth, he said.

In 2007, ARIDE, the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement program, was introduced.

More than 6,000 police officers statewide have gone through that training.

An ARIDE training session is scheduled in May at the Kiski Township Police Department.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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