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Prescription Drug OVIs on the Rise
CLARK COUNTY -- We all know about the problems that drinking and driving cause, but there's a new trend that's causing more problems behind the wheel.
"It's becoming a bigger deal. In the last year or so that I've been in Clark County I've seen an increase in these cases that I have not seen in the previous five or 10 years practicing law," said Prosecutor Mark Ross.
He says he sees more than a dozen OVI cases in Clark County alone where the driver was impaired from prescription medication.
"A lot of times they think, because I got a prescription or my doctor said I can take these drugs, I can drive," said Ross. "A lot of times the medication itself will put warning labels on there that you cannot operate a motor vehicle safely, even if you were taking the prescription as prescribed. You look at evidence in that case like you would at any other OVI. What was the person's coordination like speech ability to operate a motor vehicle motor skills mental acuity ability to perform field sobriety test."
Police arrested Shelbi Bennett of Springfield after they say she crashed into another driver. There were no signs of alcohol in her car, but in her sobriety test police noted she had fast, uncontrollable eye movements which is a sign the driver may have overdosed on prescription drugs.
She failed test, after test, after test, and then when officers sent in the blood test, she failed that one, too. In addition to her six-month license suspension, she paid hundreds of dollars in fines and court costs and complete a drug program to avoid spending 30 days in jail. Although these drugged drivers are only a fraction compared to the drunken drivers, the impairment can be the same.
We wanted to find out why we suddenly are seeing an increase in driving under the influence of prescription drugs.
"If you put a lot more cars on the street you are going to see more car crashes. If you put a lot more pills out there, pills that can be abused then you are going to see more addiction more impairment and more overdoses," said Andrea Hoff from Alcohol/Drug Addiction Services.
She says in 1997 there were about seven prescription opiate pills for Ohio's per capita dosage. Fast forward to 2007 there were about 67 prescription opiate pills for every man woman and child in the state of Ohio. And today the number continues to increase.
"I think it was an unintended consequence. Physicians were asked to address patient's pain and that's exactly what they did without seeing if they could fast forward a couple decades what that was going to do," said Hoff.
There aren't awareness campaigns for driving under medication like there is with drinking and driving, so prosecutors hope you reading this story will make you think twice before getting behind the wheel after taking medication.
"Hey I have a prescription," said Ross. "I'm taking this as prescribed, I can go out there and drive. That's not always true under Ohio law and I don't think people always realize that there's nothing wrong with driving under medication as long as you are not impaired by the medication. Some people either don't realize that difference when they are impaired or they don't think it's against the law."
Many officers are beginning to take drug recognition expert training classes to help them be more aware of the signs when they pull somebody over.
Prosecutors say they will prosecute these charges to the same extent as they would with an alcohol-based OVI.
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