20 Aug Drug Czar Visits Vegas to Talk about Drugged Driving
Gil Kerlikowske, the federal drug czar, visited Las Vegas on Wednesday in an effort to raise awareness about drugged driving. While the number of people driving drunk has declined in the last 30 years, the number of people driving under the influence of drugs—both illegal and prescription—has increased.
“Over the years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of drugged drivers on our roads and highways commensurate with the substance abuse problems we have in our communities, including not only illicit drugs but prescription narcotics,” said Nevada Department of Public Safety Director Jerry Hafen.
The Las Vegas Sun reports that an analysis of prescription narcotic consumption across the country between 1997 and 2006 revealed that Nevadans consume about twice the national average per capita of prescription narcotics.
According to a recent study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 16 percent of drivers on weekend nights tested positive for drugs. While that does not mean all of those drivers were impaired, more than 11 percent of the drivers tested positive for illicit drugs, five times as many as those who tested positive for alcohol.
“This should be a national wake up call,” Kerlikowske said. “Given the impact and the success that we’ve had … on alcohol-impaired driving, we should be able to devote the same level of attention and resources (to drugged driving).”
“The good news is that we’re not waiting for drugged driving to claim 28,000 lives and injure a million others before taking action,” said Sandy Heverly, executive director of STOP DUI. “Yes, it took 28,000 deaths and a million injured before our country woke up to the dangers of drinking and driving.”
“It doesn’t get as much recognition as when we talk about alcohol abuse and alcohol-impaired driving, but with the statistics we have and the use and the abuse of drugs in this state, there is always a concern that people are going to be abusing drugs and then out on our roadways,” said Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.
“We can not relax our efforts to combat impaired driving whether it stems from alcohol abuse or drug abuse. We need to apply the same educational enforcement measures we put into place for drunk driving to address drugged driving,” she continued.
Hafen said that the state has made improvements in enforcing DUI laws. In 2006, law enforcement agencies in the state had 82 officers certified as drug recognition experts. Now, there are 247 in the state, an increase of 300 percent in three years.
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