Law enforcement seeing, identifying more drug-related crashes

Drug recognition experts track growing opioid-crash epidemic

By Erik von Ancken - Anchor/Reporter

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - Next year, when law enforcement across Florida begins using a modified crash report template, officers, deputies and troopers will be able to note the specific type of drug the driver is suspected of using.

The current crash report template only includes check boxes for either drugs or alcohol. Adding check boxes for cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, PCP and opioids would allow law enforcement to search crash data easily and instantly. 

Officers confirm the drug type ultimately with a blood test, but initially, they use a complex set of field sobriety exercises. Only Drug Recognition Experts, or DREs, are trained to legally administer the special exercises.

The Osceola County Sheriff's Office has six DREs, the most of any agency in Central Florida, according to the Osceola Sheriff's Office.

Lt. Daniel Marquith is one of the six.

"Without DRE training, we're behind the 8-ball,"  Marquith said. "You look at the trends across the nation with medical marijuana, recreational marijuana use -- drugs are becoming more mainstream, more acceptable. We have to be able to transition with it as law enforcement and be ahead of the game."

Marquith said he applied and was accepted to the state-certified DRE program. He underwent months of grueling training and testing and is re-certified yearly.

"The drugs of today are not the drugs of 20 years ago,"  Marquith said. "So we need people out there who are dedicated to educating themselves and dedicated to the safety of the community to be sure we limit that as much as possible."

Marquith said he has seen a spike in opioid-related crashes.

"Our ultimate goal when it comes to the DRE program is successful prosecution," Marquith said. "Many times we have cases that go through the courts system and we're not able to show that at the time of arrest they were impaired. This (DRE) brings that into the equation."

In November, troopers said a driver crashed into a school bus in Orange County and they found a hypodermic needle in his handle.

Osceola has seen 19 drug-related crashes this year and five people died in those crashes.

"More and more are involving those opioids, involving drugs that are becoming the norm now," Marquith said. "These are kids, loved ones, no demographic that's safe from this. I think this will make the cocaine epidemic of the '80s pale in comparison."

Marquith said the new crash reports will help law enforcement and lawmakers to assess the drug problem, especially the opioid epidemic.

"The best thing about this is it's going to be information, and with information we have power," Marquith said. "When I say we have power, I mean we can get more funding, more training for police officers, more community action programs involved."

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