Setting Drug Impairment Levels Far Off

Setting Drug Impairment Levels Far Off
Posted by FoM on March 27, 2002 at 12:35:02 PT
By Lisa Sink of the Journal Sentinel Staff
Source: Journal Sentinel
State toxicologists said Tuesday that it would be virtually impossible for Wisconsin to set specific drug impairment levels for drivers because that science is in its infancy.In fact, they said, it may never be possible to prove that every driver who ingests the same level of the same drug is impaired because, unlike alcohol, other drugs do not affect people the same way. Only one state - Nevada - has set specific limits on the amount of drugs drivers may have in their system before they are prosecuted. 
But Nevada's levels are not based on proven impairment, said Wisconsin toxicologist Patrick Harding, who called Nevada's law "the poster child for bad drug laws."Eight other states instead have adopted "zero tolerance" laws making it a crime for drivers to have any amount of illegal drugs in their system, whether the drugs cause impairment or not, according to the National Traffic Law Center, a division of the American Prosecutors Research Institute in Alexandria, Va.Four of those eight "zero tolerance" states are Wisconsin neighbors - Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana and Iowa.But in Wisconsin, where tavern industry interests have political clout, lawmakers prefer to prosecute bad driving, not alcohol and drug presence, Harding said.Nonetheless, some prosecutors struggle to prove drug-impaired driving because of the lack of a legal standard such as Wisconsin's 0.10 blood-alcohol limit in drunken driving cases.In one Milwaukee County fatal car crash involving a driver who reports showed had Ecstasy and marijuana in his system but no alcohol, a prosecutor opted against charging the driver with homicide by intoxicated driving because of the difficulty in proving beyond a reasonable doubt that his driving was impaired.Instead she charged the driver with homicide by negligent driving. The difference in the maximum penalty upon conviction is 40 years in prison vs. only two years in prison for homicide by negligent driving.In Waukesha County, District Attorney Paul Bucher is researching whether he can prove that the driver of a Mack truck that police say caused a fatal crash was impaired by the amount of marijuana tests showed he had in his system.DA not convincedBucher scoffed at toxicologists' comments that setting drug impairment levels would be difficult if not impossible."That's ridiculous," Bucher said. "I totally disagree that they could not come up with a level of, say, Delta 9 THC (a metabolite of marijuana used in blood tests)."Why can't they simply say at five nanograms per milliliter" a driver is impaired, Bucher asked.Harding and several other toxicologists said that if a drug limit were set at an extremely high level it would be more likely that all drivers with that level would be impaired.Were lower levels to become the standard, experts said, some drivers tested may be found able to drive well, while others may not, depending on their individual tolerance to that drug."There is such a huge variation in response to drugs at the same concentration in people," Harding said.Laura Liddecoat, Harding's supervisor at the Wisconsin Laboratory of Hygiene, said that years of study of alcohol abuse and driving have proved that all drivers tested became increasingly impaired the more alcohol they drank. But replicating those studies for other drugs, she said, is difficult because researchers ethically can't dose subjects with illicit drugs to gauge their driving abilities.Also, many drivers take multiple drugs making it more difficult for researchers to say which drug caused what problem. Some drugs on their own may not cause impairment but can be dangerous in combination with alcohol or other drugs, Liddecoat said.Tests show that drivers also are getting behind the wheel after taking excessive levels of prescription drugs, painkillers and over-the-counter drugs, even cold medication, she said."The drugs are three to five times the therapeutic levels," she said.Motorists even have driven after taking Ambien, a prescription drug used to combat insomnia, Liddecoat said. "It's supposed to put them to sleep at 300 nanograms per liter and people are driving at 1,200 nanograms."Marcia Cunningham, director of the National Traffic Law Center, said Tuesday that prosecutors nationwide are clamoring for guidelines indicating how much of various drugs make driving unsafe.While "zero tolerance laws" may not be the most preferable approach, she said, "I cannot see how (they) can be anything but helpful."Defense lawyer James A.H. Bell, of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said defense lawyers prefer a requirement that prosecutors must prove impairment.Chemists and toxicologists around the country are trying to meet prosecutors' demand for standards.A Washington state toxicologist is studying levels of drugs found in drivers who caused fatal crashes and is comparing that data with the officers' observations of the drivers behavior, Liddecoat said.Note: Effect fluctuates, state toxicologists say.Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on March 27, 2002.Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)Author: Lisa Sink of the Journal Sentinel StaffPublished: March 26, 2002Copyright: 2002 Milwaukee Journal SentinelContact: jsedit onwis.comWebsite: Related Articles:Court Says Idaho Motorists Can Drive While High Impairs Driving More than Marijuana
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Comment #2 posted by qqqq on March 27, 2002 at 16:34:37 PT
..Everyone knows that Mary Poppins had at least a Delta 12 to get off the ground!,,and experts seem to agree that there's no way she could have made it over to Rod Stewarts flat without runnin' a Delta 18...
..and if ya wanna talk about Ambien,,then I'll tell you that it is rubbish!...I hasd Ambien in the hospital,and Ambien is to sleep as happiness is to fun!...for some reason,,Ambien was the only sleep medication was CRAP....Nigel Poppins,,who is Marys brother,once tried to commit suicide with Ambien,,,he ended up thinking that he was "Dave",of the Dave Clark Five..I could say more,,,but I've already said to much!
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo MD on March 27, 2002 at 12:44:50 PT:
"That's ridiculous," Bucher said. "I totally disagree that they could not come up with a level of, say, Delta 9 THC (a metabolite of marijuana used in blood tests).Is that so? What in your legal training qualifies you to refute a toxicologist (who happens to be medically accurate). Serum THC or metabolite levels have little correlation at all with degree of inebriation or impairment. If a person fails a field sobriety test, there is probable cause for impairment. The DA's should not be turfing their problem to the lab for scientific verification of something they cannot prove.Alcohol is a plague on our highways. Many people are impaired by benzodiazepines. Don't forget another major threat: fatigue. The tired driver will kill countless people.
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