Officers see rise in DUI cases involving controlled substances

Officers see rise in DUI cases involving controlled substances

FLORENCE, AL (WAFF) - Drugs like Xanax are surpassing marijuana when it comes to impaired drivers on Alabama roadways.

For years, driving under the influence charges have been attributed to alcohol usage - but there's a growing trend in the state that shows DUIs for controlled substances are on the rise.

Alabama is currently ranked number 1 in prescribed drugs, and law enforcement officials suspect the number of impaired drivers on the roadway will only get worse.

Florence police officer Shane Blalock says there's not much difference when it comes to impaired drivers, whether it's alcohol or controlled substances. As many of us would suspect, the biggest difference is alcohol has an odor.

"A lot of the indicators are exactly the same, it's just impairment in your motor functions and your ability to speak walk and talk normally," explained Blalock.

It's those impairments officers are looking for when they field test drivers suspected of DUI.

"You still have to give a standardized breath test, which is mandatory for any DUI, and then if we feel it is a controlled substance or combined, we go and draw blood and do a chemical analysis through the lab for the state of Alabama," said Blalock.

The Lauderdale County District Attorney's office says those toxicology reports from the blood samples are key when it comes to prosecuting DUI cases.

Because drugs like Xanax are so readily prescribed throughout the state for therapeutic measures, prosecutors are looking to see if the levels are above recommended therapy levels or if it's being used for recreational purposes.

For example it took four months to indict Matthew Ray Tidwell for DUI in the crash that killed his 7-year-old daughter. The forensics backlog held up his toxicology report.

Prosecutors allege Tidwell was using Xanax and codeine when he ran off the road in Lauderdale County.

"You can be charged with DUI on your prescribed medication because it impairs your ability to drive," Blalock said. "It'll say on the bottle, 'Do ot operate heavy machinery or drive while taking this medication.'"

Matthew Tidwell pleaded not guilty last month to the manslaughter charge. Court records show his trial is scheduled to begin August 10.

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