By Zachary Manning
Bath-DeWitt Connection Staff Reporter
DEWITT — The city of DeWitt has seen a rise in the number of drugged driving cases over the past few years. Drugged driving is driving while under the influence of drugs.
From 2012-2015, the city of DeWitt has seen rises in drugged driving cases. In 2012, the city had six cases. In 2013, the city had seven cases. In 2014, the city had 11 cases. In 2015, the city was up to 21 cases of drugged driving.
“Were seeing a significant rise of drugged driving in our city. Probably a quarter of our cases. When drunk driving starts to decrease, then drugged driving comes along,” said DeWitt Chief of Police Bruce Ferguson.
Ferguson noted that the most common drugs used in drugged driving cases in DeWitt are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Xanax.
THC is an active ingredient in marijuana and Xanax is used to treat anxiety. Both of these drugs are dangerous, especially if misused. Driving while under of the influence of drugs is a crime and is classified as Operating While Under the Influence of Drugs (OWID).
“If you’ve used them, be very cognizant of your ability,” said Ferguson.
“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” said John McCarty, resident of DeWitt.
Drug use has become such a prevalent part of today’s society not only in DeWitt, but nationwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014, the United States had 47,055 overdose deaths. The state of Michigan had 1,762 overdose deaths in 2014, which is a 13.2 percent change from 2013.
Julian Dixon, a psychologist in the substance abuse unit at the Michigan State University Counseling Center, noted a “change in values” as a reason for substance abuse becoming more prevalent in today’s society.
“There are a lot of medications out there. It is how society is today. We have an issue, we go get a prescription. No one is going to give up driving, so that becomes an issue,” said Ferguson. “People automatically assume that if a doctor gives them a prescription, then it is okay to carry on.”
Not only is the use of drugs increasing, but drugged driving is increasing nationwide as well. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) reported that in 2013 more than 31 million people drove after drug or alcohol use. The highest rate was among 18-25 year-olds. The NIH also reported that in 2009 one in three drivers killed in car crashes tested positive for drugs.
“It’s impaired judgement, so people believe that they are functioning okay and they make a poor decision to operate an automobile,” said Dixon.
“The general rule is if you’re taking something that alters your senses, then you shouldn’t be driving,” said Ferguson.
The DeWitt Police Department has done all it can do to try and combat drugged driving, but there is only so much that can be done. Officers have been sent to various training programs that are specific to drugged driving. They are informed on behaviors to look for and actions associated with drugged driving. The DeWitt Police Department has been going to schools, talking to parents, and even putting information in their newsletters to get information out about the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs.
“We’re sending our officers to specific training to deal with this. We’ve done our education. We’ve been to schools and talked to parents. We post things on our newsletter and on our webpage to try and educate folks. We are doing two education programs in our schools right now and we have done parent meetings,” said Ferguson. “Some things are hard to test for and you need to have specific tests to see what was ingested.”
Residents know the problem exists and that it is very dangerous, but still feel safe driving in the city. People also know the DeWitt Police Department is doing their best to slow down the problem.
“It’s as dangerous as a child playing with a loaded gun and it needs to be stopped,” said McCarty. “Do I feel safe driving in DeWitt? Absolutely. I think the problem is being corrected.”
Ferguson knows that it is an uphill battle to slow drugged driving and there is one glaring challenge. Educating the public is one of the biggest challenges that the police force faces. There is a learning curve for everything, but Ferguson knows that if people aren’t educated quickly, then drugged driving could get worse and worse.
“I think that folks need to know that if you are driving while impaired, no matter what is impairing you, then you are still responsible and you can get arrested for it. There is a learning curve for everything,” said Ferguson.