Drug-Impaired Drivers Growing Epidemic on SWLA Roadways

March 28, 2007
Reported By: Lee Peck

"When I started here in 1998, most of our drunks were drunk -- it was alcohol," said State Police Trooper Sal Messina. "It was rare to catch a DWI during the day shift."

Trooper Messina says in the past couple of years those statistics have drastically changed, partly due to a growing epidemic of drug impaired drivers.

"Most of our arrests for drug impairment are made during the day... they're not made at night," said Trooper Wayne Thompson. "They're showing all the signs of impairment or even more signs of impairment than you would see on an alcohol impaired driver."

Trooper Thompson is a Drug Recognition Expert with State Police Troop D. He's called in when impaired drivers register 0.000 on the alcohol breathalyzer -- usually pointing to drug abuse. This year Troop D has made 32 drug impaired arrests in Calcasieu alone. Most of those arrested admit to taking prescribed pain pills.

"90% or more drug recognition evaluations, at the conclusion of the interview evaluation -- the subject states they go to Texas to a pain management clinic, where they don't accept insurance, they only accept cash," explained Thompson. "Their monthly prescription are 120 somas, 120 hydrocodones or Lorcet and 90 Xanex per month. That is more than enough to keep the largest of people impaired for a month."

But most can't wait until they get home, instead taking the drugs immediately before getting on the roadway. By the time they hit the Louisiana state line they are extremely impaired. "We find them with prescriptions. There's 10 to 15 to 20 pills missing from the bottles already and they were filled on that same day," said Thompson. "We see crashes, fatalities, in most cases we don't have to look for them... They find us. They are called into 911 by other motorists."

Troopers Messina and Thompson both say even more alarming is that most of the cases they've seen are far more impaired than alcohol related cases. And unlike alcohol, they say the onset of drug impairment takes effect much quicker.

"It doesn't matter if you've never drank a drop in your life. If you are on medication and you are impaired, you will go to jail and we will charge you with DWI," said Messina.