GILLETTE — In 2017, 13 percent of the 475 arrests in Campbell County for driving while under the influence involved drugs, a percentage that has steadily increased since the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police started collecting statistics about seven years ago.
Campbell County isn’t alone in experiencing an uptick in drugged driving.
Across Wyoming since 2010, the percent of alcohol-involved arrests have decreased, while the percent of drug-involved arrests has increased. In 2010, 8.39 percent of the state’s DUI arrests involved drugs. In 2017, it was 14.5 percent.
Although drugged driving is increasing, adults in Wyoming remain uninformed about the problem, according to a recently released Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center survey of 393 residents.
“There is definitely a knowledge gap among Wyoming residents regarding the penalties associated with driving under the influence of marijuana or opioids,” said Brian Harnisch, a senior research scientist at the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center. “Less than a third of surveyed adults correctly responded that the penalties are the same as driving under the influence of alcohol.”
According to the survey, about 23 percent of adults in the state believe driving while under the influence of marijuana is less dangerous than driving while under the influence of alcohol. Nine percent believe driving while under the influence of prescription opioid medication or prescription painkillers is less dangerous than driving while under the influence of alcohol.
The majority of Wyoming adults — 65 percent — believe it is more difficult for law enforcement to detect drugged driving than to detect drunk driving.
Campbell County currently has a handful of drug recognition experts who have special training to detect drugged driving. When a patrol officer arrests someone on suspicion of drunken driving, the person often submits to a Breathalyzer test. If the test indicates the person’s blood alcohol content is below the legal limit of 0.08 percent, drug recognition experts are called in. They can perform additional tests such as having the driver’s pupils examined and blood pressure recorded, which help determine the cause of impairment.
“We want people to know these substances are detectable by law enforcement; officers know what they are looking for,” said Rhea Parsons, project coordinator for the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police. “Not only are they formally trained to detect drug use, but they encounter it enough in their work to recognize it when it’s happening.”
To combat these misconceptions, the Governor’s Council on Impaired Driving is sponsoring The “New” DUI, a public awareness campaign focused on spreading the message that drugged driving is dangerous, detectable and consequential.
“Everyone knows what can happen when you drink and drive, but a lot of people in Wyoming don’t know what can happen when you drive under the influence of marijuana and prescription drugs. It’s having an impact on our fatal and injury crashes. Drugged driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, so they come with identical legal consequences. There’s a lack of awareness,” said Rich Adriaens, Governor’s Council on Impaired Driving co-chair and Sheridan chief of police.
The campaign, which will include digital, radio and social media advertisements, is paid for by the Department of Health and is a collaboration between the Governor’s Council on Impaired Driving and the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police.
“A drugged driving DUI isn’t new to law enforcement, but it is new to the public,” Adriaens said. “For years now, we’ve been preparing and training our folks to recognize what marijuana and opioids look like behind the wheel with advanced roadside testing techniques, so if you’re driving under the influence of anything, we’ll know. This campaign just makes the parallels between these substances easy to understand.”