Pubdate: Mon, 25 Nov 2002
Source: Daily Record, The (NJ)
Copyright: 2002 The Daily Record
Author: Matt Manochio, Daily Record


Most people are not aware of how severe the consequences can be for drivers 
who use illegal drugs or are found in possession of illegal drugs in their 
car, local law enforcement officials say.

"People need to know that if they're operating a motor vehicle (while 
high), they're going to lose their driver's license and it's going to have 
a serious impact on their life," Morris County Prosecutor Michael 
Rubbinaccio said.

Federal authorities recently announced an initiative to help local 
authorities crack down on motorists who drive under the influence of drugs.

The campaign includes a series of public service announcements to warn 
motorists of the dangers of taking drugs and then driving, and a program to 
train police officers to identify motorists who drive under the influence 
of drugs.

A national study released earlier this month found that people who drive 
under the influence of illegal drugs are rarely detected, prosecuted or 
referred to treatment programs. While there are blood-alcohol standards, 
most states do not have laws establishing a standard for people who drive 
after taking illegal drugs. That forces prosecutors to prove that a 
person's ability to drive was impaired because of drugs.

"While the consequences of drunk driving have become well known over the 
past 20 years, drugged driving has received relatively limited attention," 
said John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug 
Control Policy.

Rockaway Township police Capt. James Staszak said a motorist convicted of 
driving while intoxicated could lose his or her license for a minimum of 
six months. Tack on a conviction of having narcotics in a vehicle, and the 
person could lose his or her license for a minimum of two years.

"I don't think people know they can lose it for such a length of time," 
Rockaway Township police Chief Walter Kimble said.

Staszak said that he'd also be in favor of more rigid laws that would allow 
police to compel suspects to give urine samples that could reveal the 
presence of illegal drugs.

As it stands, Breathalyzer tests given to motorists only detect alcohol, 
not drugs, he said. Police cannot compel suspects to give urine samples if 
one is requested.

Randolph police Lt. Dean Kazaba said that cases involving suspected drugged 
drivers rely mostly on an officer's testimony, such as whether marijuana 
smoke was detected after a traffic stop.

Rubbinaccio said that Morris County police departments currently have about 
a dozen trained and certified drug recognition experts and that he would 
like to see them pass along their knowledge to other officers at the 
county's police and fire academy.

Roxbury police Detective Kyle Sheplak, one of Roxbury's four DRE officers, 
said training to identify drugged people involves 80 hours of classroom 
work, followed by extensive field work.

During his training in 1996, Sheplak went to Paterson police headquarters 
to examine people arrested for other offenses but who also were suspected 
to be on drugs.

Sheplak said that he would look for symptoms typical of certain drugs. For 
instance, heroin tends to constrict people's pupils, while cocaine dilates 

Sheplak and his colleagues were required to examine 20 people, assess what 
drugs they believed them to be on and then confirm the assessment with a 
urine sample.

"I would put it this way: It has been a very effective tool for me and the 
other officers who have that (training)," Sheplak said.

He said there are seven drug categories: depressants, stimulants, 
hallucinogens, PCP, narcotic, inhalant and cannabis.

Jim Tambini, clinical director at Daytop Village, the rehabilitation center 
in Mendham, said symptoms of drug intoxication vary.

"I think generally it's going to depend on the drugs you are using," 
Tambini said.

Cocaine tends to hype up its users and make them extra vigilant, Tambini 
said, while heroin has an effect similar to alcohol, a suppressant.

Tambini said that Daytop cares for approximately 70 youngsters between the 
ages of 13 to 18 and that some of the older teenagers have lost their 
driver's license because of drug use.

"Some of our residents did have licenses," he said. "And most of them have 
at one point or another lost them."

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, a 
Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, reiterated its position against 
driving while impaired by marijuana but questioned the federal proposal as 
a move designed to infringe on the rights of innocent drivers.

NORML spokesman Paul Armentano said that marijuana can linger in a person's 
system up to 12 hours, meaning a person who's no longer under the influence 
could have marijuana detected in his or her body from prior use.

"You could technically have drivers who are sober, but because marijuana is 
detected, the law is considering them to be impaired, and that where we 
have some concern," Armentano said.
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