Ohio law enforcement train to be drug-recognition experts

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A new program training Ohio law enforcement officers to spot a drug-impaired driver is getting mixed reviews.

So far, 71 officers statewide are now certified as 'drug-recognition experts' (DRE). This program goes beyond sobriety tests to train officers to determine whether someone is impaired from drugs or a medical condition.

Those in favor of the program say the training can bolster cases against drug-impaired drivers, but on the flip side, opponents including criminal defense lawyers say the assessments aren't backed up by science.

This is something that's been established in other states for decades, but is new for the State of Ohio.

Impaired drivers are a concern all law enforcement have to worry about, but Sergeant Wes Stout is coordinating the training to quickly get more drug-recognition experts in Ohio.

"With the increase in drug use, and prescription abuse, I think it's needed now more than ever," said Sgt. Stout.

At just under three-years-old, Stout says the program is quickly growing. They went from 83 evaluations after stops in 2011, to 480 in 2012.

"DRE's are called when an officer has stopped an individual and suspects that individual is impaired," explained Sgt. Stout.

Stout says the assessment includes conducting an interview, taking vital signs, measuring pupil size and checking muscle tone. He says each DRE evaluation takes about 45 minutes to an hour.

"It's about providing more documentation, articulation, and observation to the courts so we can tie that impairment to a drug," said Sgt. Stout.

Those opposed to the program say this isn't legitimate.

"Each person reacts differently when they're under the influence of some type of drug, whether it's heroin, cocaine, marijuana," explained defense attorney Mike Allen.

Defense Attorney Mike Allen says law enforcement officers are well-trained, but he doesn't believe many judges will let these officers testify with this information in court.

"It's voodoo science. I don't care how much training you have. It's kind of difficult to accept that anyone would be able to detect the drug use, what type of drug, or at least what category of drug," said Allen.

Allen believes blood and urine tests are the answer because they're proven to detect drugs in the body.

"That's a system that works. It's scientifically recognized and accepted. This isn't," said Allen.

There are about 10 drug recognition experts in the Cincinnati area. Sgt. Stout says he hopes to have 100 total throughout the state of Ohio by the end of 2013.

The program has also been established in Kentucky and Indiana.

For more information, follow this link: http://www.decp.org/

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