Driving under the influence used to mean someone behind the wheel had a few too many drinks.
Nowadays people are getting in trouble for driving after taking prescription medications.
“It just seems like we’ve had a rash of these in the last six months,” said Erie County Sheriff’s Capt. Paul Sigsworth. “More and more we’re dealing with people abusing prescription drugs in particular.”
In one of the incidents, a Sandusky man was arrested after deputies said he drove off of Wahl Road and hit a house and tree. Police said Trent R. Sattler, 40, was arrested for suspicion he was driving under the influence of Zolpidem pills.
In August 2007 Sandusky police arrested a man for his second DUI in two days for suspicion he was under the influence of prescription medication.
Sandusky resident Ronald A. Leach, 51, was charged with DUI after he hit a concrete wall in Margaretta Township on Ohio 101.
The next day he was driving a rental vehicle and hit another car driven by a 38-year-old Sandusky woman, sending her and her 8-year-old son to the hospital, police said.
Leach had “thick-tongue speech, slurred speech and very dilated pupils,” according to the report.
Leach told police he had not slept in 24 hours and that he takes Xanax, oxycodone and methadone among other drugs. Determining if a driver is impaired by prescription drugs can be challenging, but signs are similar to alcohol intoxication, including swerving or slow speed, Sigsworth said.
“The people are not in fullcontrol of their faculties and are not in full control of their vehicle,” he said. “Deputies will often call for an ambulance, thinking it’s a health problem.”
Criminal penalties for driving under the influence, whether alcohol or drugs, are the same.
In cases where prescription drug use is suspected, a blood sample is the best means to test a person, Sigsworth said. Samples are taken to the Lucas County Coroner’s office.
“In terms of prescription drugs there are about 40 different things that are common that could impair driving,” said Dr. Robert Forney, chief toxicologist at the coroner’s office. “We’re going to look for common narcotics.”
Officials in Lucas County perform such tests for about 20 counties in Ohio and three Michigan counties. Tests are usually completed within a week, Forney said.
“The toxicologist can tell us if it’s at a therapeutic level or well above,” Sigsworth said.
Drugs found in people’s systems range from tranquilizers to methamphetamines, he said.
“The things that are of concern are things that depress the central nervous system,” Forney said. “There are a lot of psychiatric drugs that would fall into that category.”
The best solution to the problem is informing people.
“The public needs to be aware,” Forney said. “They need to look at the warning labels.”
People may often disregard those instructions.
“I think some people are under the misunderstanding that these drugs are not as dangerous as street drugs,” Sigsworth said. “It’s all false assumption on their parts.”
Recent DUI arrests for medication impairment:
•August 8, 2007: Luann L. Erney, 45, Monroeville. Deputies say Erney was driving an Oldsmobile Alero when she hit several vehicles in a driveway off of Mason Road, and almost hit another vehicle head on. Erney finally stopped the vehicle and was “lethargic and confused,” when deputies arrived.
Deputies said they found marijuana, Xanax, Vicodin and Tylenol pills in her car.
•Aug. 8-9, 2007: Ronald A. Leach, 51, Sandusky. Leach was arrested twice in two days for suspicion of driving under the influence of medications. Leach was charged after he crashed his own Chevy van into a concrete wall on Ohio 101 in Margaretta Township.
The next day Leach was driving a rental Nissan Sentra on West Perkins Avenue and hit another vehicle housing a 38-year-old Sandusky woman and her 8-year-old son.
Reports indicated Leach had “thick-tongue speech, slurred speech and very dilated pupils.” Leach told police he had not slept in 24 hours and that he takes Xanax, oxycodone and methadone among other drugs.
•Nov. 9, 2007: Deborah J. Adams, 49, Monroeville. Deputies said Adams was driving a Ford Explorer on Patten-Tract Road where witnesses said they thought she was drunk. The vehicle was seen swerving in and out of its lane.
Adams was stopped and had “extremely slurred” speech and her mannerisms were “very halting and slow.” Tablets believed to be Soma and Vicodin were found in the vehicle, according to the report.
•Feb. 6, 2008: Trent R. Sattler, 40, Sandusky. Deputies found Sattler stuck in a Wahl Road yard trying to back up his Oldsmobile Intrigue and, at one point, hit a spruce tree. He had just hit a home moments earlier, the report said.
Sattler had bloodshot eyes and “his speech was slightly slurred,” deputies said. Zolpidem pills were found in Sattler’s pocket.
•March 22, 2008: George A. Charnock Jr., 21, Sandusky. Deputies believe Charnock was under the influence of some drug when he was pulled over after driving erratically on Bardshar and Skadden roads, according reports.
Charnock denied drinking alcohol, but admitted to taking a prescription pill earlier that day. His speech was slurred and he kept closing his eyes and nodding off, the report said.
Source: Local law enforcement reports