VESTAL (WBNG) — Police say the issue of drugged driving goes hand-in-hand with the opioid crisis in the Southern Tier.
A crash in Vestal on Tuesday made for a close call for Rebecca Jones of the Town of Maine, who says she was driving on State Route 26 at the time of the incident.
“I just thanked god that there was nobody on the side of me and I could swerve and get out of the way and then when I pulled over and said my little prayer and looked back, I just saw cars,” said Jones.
Police say the driver was on drugs, which reminded Jones of something she knows all too well, an epidemic that is now affecting the roads.
“So how I feel about it not only as a citizen of the community, but also of somebody who has a loved one, I am pissed. I am really angry over this, and this has to stop,” said Jones.
Vestal Police say the issue is actually getting worse.
“It’s a tremendous increase over the last year or two,” said Vestal Police Lieutenant Christopher Streno.
This year the department has made 18 driving while ability impaired arrests.
That’s an estimated one arrest, about every two weeks, in the Town of Vestal alone.
“Just because overdose deaths are down, I don’t think it means that overdoses are down and I don’t think it means that the use of these drugs are down, and nor does it mean that the use of these drugs and then driving has decreased. I think it’s the opposite,” said Lieutenant Streno.
Vestal Police has had to take some extra steps to deal with the issue.
“Driving while under the influence of drugs has become such a problem that we have an officer who’s been specially trained. He’s federally certified as a drug recognition expert,” said Lieutenant Streno.
Also known as a DRE, that officer is trained to evaluate drivers and determine what type of drug they’re on and what influence it has over them.
While police acknowledge it’s a major problem, “There is a simple solution. Don’t do drugs and drive a motor vehicle. It is that simple,” said Lieutenant Streno.
The DRE who works with Vestal Police is only one of four in Broome County.
Vestal Police say as the drugged driving issue continues to grow, it’s looking to add more officers in that role.