Fumes of fresh, burnt marijuana pouring from drivers-side car windows. Half-smoked joints lying on floorboards in the midst of a traffic stop. A man driving past an elementary school while reportedly high on Xanax.
All of the above are actual examples, pulled from Kanawha County court documents, of drugged driving incidents in the Kanawha Valley within the past four months, and all point to a problem that continues to persist throughout West Virginia - locals choosing to drive while high on some type of drug.
“It’s not uncommon anymore to pat someone down and find a syringe in their pocket or a bent spoon or other types of paraphernalia,” said Stephanie Adams, a drug recognition expert, or DRE, for the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office. “They’re causing a lot of crashes, and a lot of people are getting hurt or killed.”
Adams said in 2015, deputies arrested 1,195 people for driving while intoxicated in Kanawha County. Of those arrested, nearly 441 were high on drugs.
It’s not just happening in Kanawha County, however.
In Region 2, which consists of Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln, Mingo, Putnam and Mason counties, law enforcement made a total of 1,566 DUI arrests between Jan. 1, 2015 and Dec. 14, 2015 , said Beau Evans of the Governor’s Highway Safety Program. Of those DUI arrests, 574 were drug-related.
Statewide, Evans said law enforcement arrested 8,255 people for DUIs in 2015. Of those West Virginia drivers, about 25 percent were high.
These numbers are concerning some drivers.
“You think about their families - you think about what could have happened. It could have been the worst,” said Taquila Bruce. “[It] really hurts my heart.”
In 2012, 8-10 percent of DUIs in Kanawha County were drug-related, Adams said. Now, the number’s risen to nearly 36 percent.
Adams doesn’t attribute the higher statistic to an uptick in the number of people driving while high, rather, she attributes it to deputies’ increased ability to catch drug-impaired drivers.
“I wouldn’t describe it as a whole new ball game,” Adams said. “We’ve always had a drug problem, and there’s always been drug-impaired drivers on our roadways, however….our officers are now better trained.”
In 2014, Adams said the GSHP launched a statewide initiative to train officers in better detecting drug-impaired drivers. Now, any law enforcement officer in West Virginia is required to have at least 8 hours of impaired driving training, which includes drugged driving detection. They also offer another program called ARID (Advanced RoadSide Impaired Driving), which provides any Mountain State officer, deputy or trooper with free advanced training in drug detection.
Adams said these programs trained her to become a drug recognition expert. As a DRE, she can categorize the drugged driver based on seven different drug categories. To do it, she uses a 12-step process.
“Impairment is impairment - whether they’re impaired by alcohol or certain types of drugs,” Adams said. “If they’re impaired by a drug, they will be arrested.”