SPOKANE, Wash. – DUI cases related to prescription drugs are on the rise across America.
Officers in Florida arrested Tiger Woods this week on charges of driving under the influence. The golfer later released a statement saying he had not been drinking and blamed an unexpected reaction to prescription medication. Toxicology results confirmed there was, in fact, no alcohol in Woods’ system.
KREM 2 On Your Side reached out to local law enforcement agencies to learn how much of a concern prescription drug DUIs are in the Inland Northwest.
It is difficult to know exactly how big the impact is because most available data combines prescription drug DUIs and illicit drug DUIs. However, the data that is available shows a growing problem and local law enforcement agencies agreed.
According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of fatal crashes that tested positive for drugs in the U.S. has been on a steady incline over the past few decades.
There were 1,716 reported drug DUIs in 1993. In 2015, that number increased to 6,612.
Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Mark Gregory said local law enforcement’s experiences mirror the numbers.
“Most people think DUI as being alcohol related, somebody falling down drunk, and that’s not correct,” said Gregory. “Somebody who blows until a 0.08, the legal limit, can still be arrested for DUI.’
Recreational drugs may be the first thing that comes to mind with drug-related DUIs, but prescription drugs play a big factor, too, and can have disastrous consequences.
A crash or death related to prescription drug abuse becomes a very visual symbol of the rising problem, but it does not exist within a vacuum. Across the country, prescription drug addiction is skyrocketing. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control have called it an epidemic.
The CDC reported the amount of opioid pain killers prescribed in the U.S. has nearly quadrupled since 1999. However, there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain Americans report.
The CDC said as many as one in four who are prescribed opioids for long-term pain will become addicted to them.
Beyond prescribed pain killers, even over-the-counter medications can lead to dangerous driving, especially when they are mixed with other medications and substances.
“People sometimes believe that just because it’s a prescription med, or because it’s an over-the-counter drug, that it’s not going to be a problem," said Gregory.
SCSO and the Washington State Patrol said patrolling for prescription drug DUI and alcohol DUI is the same; officers watch for the same warning signs. However, enforcing prescription drug DUIs can be tougher since there is no breathalyzer for prescription drugs. Additionally, a search warrant must be obtained for a blood test.
Gregory said the simple fact of the matter is to make good choices and be extra cautious when taking medications and getting behind the wheel.