Earlier this week, state police released a report showing nearly 19,000 DUI arrests were made in Pennsylvania in 2015.
The number is a 6.2% increase from 2014. Almost 5,000 of those arrests were the result of driving under the influence of drugs, a 43% increase from 2014.
The Blair County DUI Task Force is seeing the same trend in its jurisdiction.
“We’re driving four and five thousand, six thousand pound rockets at 70 miles an hour down a highway, and any impairment is too much,” said Sgt. Rodney Estep, a certified Drug Recognition Expert.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse found almost ten million people in the country aged 12 or older reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs in 2013.
Those numbers are increasing in Blair County.
“We’ve continued to see those numbers increase over the last two years,” Estep said. “We’re seeing relatively static DUI numbers – static or decreasing – but our percentage of drug DUI’s are going up.”
In 2013, Blair County officers made 471 DUI arrests, and 8.1% of those involved drugs.
A year later, arrests decreased to 438, but more drivers were busted for driving drugged. In fact, the 8.1% increased to a little over 12%.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s more people are using drugs,” Estep explained. “That means we’re getting better at detecting it. We’re getting better at taking these drugs off the street.”
“We’re all in this together to help our community,” said Charmayne Raia, Assistant Administrator at Blair County Drug and Alcohol Partnership, Inc.
Partnerships like the one between local law enforcement and BCDAP have helped in that effort.
“I know some people are out there think ‘Oh, they’re just out to get us. They’re just out to put us in jail. It’s a money-maker thing,'” Raia said. “It’s not. It’s about lives.”
Estep said he expects the number of drugged drivers will keep climbing, however. “My belief is that we’re gonna see a spike in these numbers with the laxed nature of our governance on drugs like marijuana.”
Police said the best thing they can do is keep up with training and become better at recognizing when drivers are on the road and under the influence.