Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Trouble with DUID: Part I

Five years ago, give or take, when Vermont was first getting a DRE ("Drug Recognition Evaluator" formerly "Drug Recognition Expert") program I did a presentation for my colleagues entitled "The Trouble with DUID." With the recent talk of banning Four Loko and dealing with the "Spice" issue, which I will save to discuss in detail later, it's gotten me thinking again about that presentation and the issue of legislation.

Legislation, as with any move from government agencies it seems, is very reactionary in it's nature. "Oh my God, here's one instance of something that happened, quick ban it!" Maybe a bit of a dramatization, but it certainly seems that way. Don't believe me? Look up You'll note that in Vermont at one time it was illegal to tie a giraffe to a telephone pole. Think that was reactionary? Or another example. How about the TSA screening procedures?

What has the focus been on the Four Loko ban? Look at any of the articles or the bills being introduced and you will see the focus is on the caffeine and the brightly colored packaging. Were those college kids hospitalized for caffeine intoxication? No, it was alcohol poisoning. My prediction is that the bills will ban caffeine containing alcoholic beverages. My second prediction is that Four Loko will simply drop the caffeine, add a little more guarana and be back on the shelves in no time. Leaving the problem of a 12% alcohol 24 ounce pop top beverage that will still be intriguing due to it's low price and high alcohol content.

The same thing is occurring with Spice. There are 400 variations of the synthetic THC used, but the lawmakers are all busily making lists of chemicals to ban. Chemicals that they are seeing now. They'll ban those few that are common place now, leaving the rest legal. The manufacturers will simply switch variations and it will be legal again. A presenter at NEAFS presented an interesting idea. Simply ban anything that binds to the cannabinoid receptor. Then every variation is, by mechanism of action, illegal.

So what does that have to do with DUID? Driving Under the Influence of Drugs for those not familiar with the acronym. Well, several years ago, I was presented with pending legislation to change the DUID statute in Vermont. We were asked to review and comment on the wording. The bill wasn't original. It was adapted from another state and followed a similar pattern and a poor one at that. It simply listed drugs that were no-nos. This created a problem for some. #1 Drugs that were Schedule I were less of an issue, since they are already illegal, but the legislature wanted numbers like the per se limits in the DUI laws. #2 Those drugs that had therapeutic uses were concerning. The legislature did not want to make it illegal for someone to drive "legally impaired."

That phrase absolutely screeches in my head like nails on a chalkboard. I'm sure I'd feel much better if a friend or family member were killed by someone driving "legally impaired." What they meant was that they felt that people who were prescribed medication should not be banned from driving since they were given the drug legally by their doctor. Some how the fact that those medications all come with warnings that people should not operate motor vehicles was irrelevant. The biggest problem with this is our country's love affair with pharmaceuticals, but that's a separate issue.

Anyways, I digress. Alcohol is a nice clean, linear, neat drug. The effects are universal and occur at vice nice linear progressions until at the highest level death occurs. Per se limits can be put into effect because ethanol's affect on people is very consistent. Drugs don't follow this pattern. They don't all affect people linearly nor have the same effects on every person. This makes per se limits very difficult to impose. Factoring in as well that people don't want to ban therapeutic levels of drugs, it's a complicated issue.

I think when we focus on lists and per se limits we're starting to be unable to see the forest for the trees. In Vermont, the DUI laws indicate that a person can not operate a motor vehicle when they are under the influence of alcohol to the slightest degree. The drug law however, states that the person must be unable to operate a motor vehicle safely. That is a huge discrepancy and due in part to the difficulties stated above. Unless someone crashes their car with an illegal drug in their blood at a high level, it's difficult to prove that the drug caused it.

On the next post we'll continue from there and continue to outline the Trouble with DUID.

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