The Dane County Sheriff’s Office has received state funding to outfit and train deputies to deal with drugged driving incidents.
On Tuesday night, the Dane County Board of Supervisors authorized the acceptance of a $16,650 grant from the state Department of Transportation to create a drugged driving pilot program in Dane County.
Funds will be used to purchase four instruments used to test drug intoxication levels and provide Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) training for up to 48 Dane County law enforcement officers.
ARIDE training was developed by the National Highway Safety Administration to bridge the gap between field sobriety test training and training to identify other drug intoxication.
The pilot program is arriving just in time, according to local officials.
Individuals operating vehicles while under the influence of drugs has been on the rise in Dane County, according to Sheriff Dave Mahoney.
“We’ve had multiple cases, and we’ve continued to have them, where we find individuals passed out in traffic or by the side of the road, some of them with no heartbeat and not breathing,” he said.
Mahoney said his office has dealt with three drugged driving incidents since last fall and averages six to eight non-traffic related drug overdose calls per week. He said opiate use in particular has been on the rise.
Opiates include drugs like heroin and prescription pain medications.
Opiate abuse and addiction has been on the rise across Wisconsin in recent years, according to the state Department of Health Services.
Data released by the department in October 2015 indicated the proportion of drug deaths involving heroin increased from 5 percent in 2006 to 33 percent in 2014. Other opioid related deaths increased from about 37 percent to 44 percent in the same time period.
Dane County Board Supervisor Paul Rusk said the board had a lively discussion about the grant at Tuesday night’s meeting.
“When you’re picked up for alcohol and you’re impaired, it’s very scientific,” Rusk said of roadside alcohol intoxication testing. “We don’t have that kind of system yet for people who are picked up for being impaired and it’s not alcohol.”
The board approved acceptance of the grant by a unanimous vote.
Rusk said the board is very aware of the challenges related to drunk driving in Wisconsin (according to the latest data available from the state Department of Health Services, Wisconsin’s rate of operating under the influence (OWI) offenses is 1.3 times the national rate), and that awareness has the board's “antennas up” about related issues.
“It’s a crisis point in Wisconsin,” he said.
The grant funds will also be used to evaluate the extent of the problem in Dane County and to help develop laws to include analysis of oral fluids as evidence in impaired driving cases.
The data may inspire the Sheriff’s Office to roll out more educational materials about the dangers of drugged driving, Mahoney said.
“If we can seek out voluntary compliance, that’s our preference over enforcement,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office said they haven’t received the testing equipment yet. They will set a timeline for officer training after the equipment’s arrival.