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County DUI fatalities down

Although fatal DUI crashes are down in Lycoming County, officials voiced their concerns over other substances impairing drivers at the DUI advisory council meeting Tuesday.

With only 19 deaths from DUI crashes in the county in 2019 according to preliminary data, Coroner Charles E. Kiessling Jr. said, “We had a pretty good year.”

Kim Smith, state Department of Transportation safety press officer, said her district, which includes eight other counties around Lycoming, saw 50 DUI fatalities in 2019 — down from 67 in the prior year.

“We’ve had the lowest number we’ve had since we’ve been keeping count, so hopefully that trend will continue,” she said.

Drug use isn’t going anywhere, however, said Kiessling.

With the highest number of drug-related deaths on record at 39 in 2019 and eight more in the few months of 2020, “I’m sure there’s some out there (driving) impaired,” he said.

Although marijuana has never killed anyone by overdose, Kiessling said the statewide push for recreational use of the drug is worrying.

“You’ll never get my support of (recreational marijuana) because I only see it as more intoxicated people on our highways,” he said.

“I whole heartedly support (medical marijuana) if it helps people with their medical issues,” he added.

The number of fatalities on the road in Colorado “went through the roof” in 2013 when marijuana was cleared for recreational use, he said.

“Why our legislators want to bury their heads in the sand and don’t want to face the reality that we’re going to have that same thing happen in Pennsylvania is beyond me,” he said.

This, paired with new and prescription drugs, posses an issue for parents, teachers and law enforcement who lack training to properly identify the signs of this new wave of drug use both on the road and otherwise, said Scott Davis, a law enforcement liaison for the DUI Association, which works to educate them.

“All of our areas across the Commonwealth are starved for training and that’s the nice thing about the DUI Association, is that we’re fortunate enough to provide grant money plus some other locations to do training,” Davis said.

For police, the association helps to update police field sobriety tests for roadside

impairment.

“We’ve seen plenty of fatal crashes, and injury crashes every year because the illicit drugs and the prescription drugs are just running rampant,” he said. “We did a good job for years getting the alcohol enforcement out there, people are educated on drunk driving, but now we need to hit (the other drugs).”

The Lycoming County District Attorney’s office has been receptive to programs which train officers enough to testify as expert witnesses in court, thereby getting more intoxicated drivers off the road, said Davis.

Minors coming of driving age are also exposed to vaping, and breathing in the fumes of markers or products used for cleaning keyboards.

“It’s not our goal to get them into the criminal justice system — we want to intervene before it gets to that point,” he said.

Several programs deal with educating school nurses and parents to notice the physiological signs of drug use.

In anticipating the changing landscape of drugs, the association also offers a drug trend course, which is “an ever-evolving program,” he said.

“In seeing what’s out there, it gets people to think of how much is going on, all the different stuff, it’s really an eye opener,” he said.

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