The opioid epidemic which has plagued America for years has now put Florida in a state of crisis. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reports nearly 4,000 Floridians died in 2015 as a result of heroin, fentanyl, and oxycodone. This represents 12 percent of all the opioid overdose deaths in the United States in 2015.
In May 2017, Governor Rick Scott declared a public health emergency in Florida as a result of the opioid epidemic. According to NBC News, this measure will allow the state to access more than $54 million in federal grant moneys from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Business Insider reports that the governors of Arizona and Maryland have also declared states of emergency, in order to grant them access to federal grant moneys.
Unfortunately, opioid abusers do not only hurt themselves. Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health reports that the number of opioid-impaired drivers who caused fatal traffic accidents increased seven times between 1995 and 2015. Car accident victims have the legal right to be compensated for their injuries and losses caused by impaired drivers.
The Scale and Nature of the Drugged Driving Problem
The Washington Post reports that 2015 was the first year in which drugged driving caused more traffic fatalities than drunk driving. With so much media coverage and activism surrounding drunk driving, it is easy to forget that alcohol is not the only method for drivers to impair themselves. But the statistics demonstrate that drugged driving is now a more dangerous problem than drunk driving.
Unfortunately, the developing nature of this public health crisis has made it difficult to enforce impaired driving laws. Driving under the influence of prescription narcotics is a violation of Florida criminal laws. However: Florida, like most other states, has not been able to set a blood level at which impaired driving can be inferred. Unlike alcohol, researchers have not yet been able to confidently assess the point at which humans are likely to be impaired by such drugs. This makes it more difficult for officers to establish probable cause that a driver is impaired by drugs.
The Illinois Herald-Review interviewed officers to learn more about the challenges faced by drug recognition experts (DRE). One such DRE reported that he is often called to a scene when the suspect’s blood alcohol content does not match his or her observed level impairment. This guesswork makes it difficult for officers to enforce the law, and it also jeopardizes the important constitutional rights of those defendants who are suspected of impaired driving. Both sides deserve a better solution to the problem.
The inexact nature of drug impairment also makes it more difficult for prosecutors prosecute charges of impaired driving. Without set blood levels to establish impairment, a jury must generally infer it from testimony about the driver’s behavior. Medical expert witnesses are extremely limited in the effects of impairment to which they may testify. Without set limits, testimony that a driver should have been impaired is entirely speculative, and generally inadmissible.
Despite these challenges to enforcing impaired driving criminal laws, accident victims still have the right to be compensated for injuries caused by impaired driving. A Seminole County car accident attorney will help protect your legal rights and hold impaired drivers accountable for their actions.