State, county take different views to combat drug offenses

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published November 6, 2017

OAKLAND COUNTY — Five counties in Michigan will start a pilot program this week to orally test drivers suspected of operating under the influence of narcotics for drugs, according to a press release from the Michigan State Police.

In Washtenaw, Berrien, Delta, Kent and St. Clair counties, a preliminary oral fluid analysis, established by Public Acts 242 and 243 of 2016, will be administered by officers to determine if drivers stopped in those areas for erratic driving are under the influence of a controlled substance in violation of state law.

Over the last several years, the agency said, Michigan has seen a steady increase in fatal crashes involving drivers impaired by drugs. In 2016, there were 236 drug-involved traffic fatalities, or a 32 percent increase from the year prior.

“Motorists under the influence of drugs pose a risk to themselves and others on the road,” Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, director of the MSP, said in a prepared statement. “With drugged driving on the rise, law enforcement officers need an effective tool to assist in making these determinations during a traffic stop.”

The pilot counties were chosen based on several criteria, the agency stated, including the number of impaired driving crashes, the number of impaired drivers arrested and the number of Drug Recognition Experts, or police officers trained to recognize impairment in drivers from drugs, staffed in the area.

Metro Detroit counties were noticeably left out of the pilot program, and according to Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe, Oakland County won’t be adding roadside drug swabs to its protocol anytime soon.

But that hardly means the agency is ignoring the growing problem of narcotics in the area. Sticking to its new motto of “We can’t arrest our way out of this epidemic,” the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office announced in late October the launch of a new treatment assistance program called Rides for Recovery.

The twofold initiative will work to help those struggling with opioid addiction in Oakland County to obtain treatment for their disease by providing transportation from the county’s substation to the Sober Support Unit, in collaboration with the Oakland Community Health Network. The drug user will be evaluated by professionals with Common Ground and will be placed in a treatment facility that meets their individual needs.

“This program fills an important need in our community and provides a safe alternative to jail or an emergency room,” Heather Rae, president and CEO at Common Ground, said in a prepared statement.

Additionally, the Oakland County Jail will offer a Medically Assisted Treatment program for those willing to participate in treatment and education for their addiction while incarcerated. Upon release, those participants will be taken to follow-up care at treatment centers where additional help is available.

“We want to offer treatment and education options to those who truly need it most, and we want the Sheriff’s Office to be a neutral ground where they can come to receive help. Together, we can save lives,” Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said in a prepared statement.

The Sober Support Unit launched in early October as an effort to enhance jail diversion efforts and reduce nonemergency hospital visits.

“The program provides a safe place for individuals who request to receive substance use assistance and begin their journey toward recovery,” stated Christina Nicholas, the administrator of substance abuse prevention and treatment services at the OCHN. “This option is available to anyone in Oakland County with a substance use disorder.”

For more information on the Sober Support Unit, housed at the Resource and Crisis Center on the Oakland County campus in Pontiac, visit OaklandCHN.org or call (248) 464-6363.