Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

Rise in drugged driving concerns prosecutor

10/14/2014 - 4pm
Ken Stecker

Ken Stecker of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM) was the most recent presenter in Southwestern Michigan College’s Academic Speaker series Oct. 9 on the college’s Dowagiac Campus. His topics included drunk driving, drugged driving, synthetic drugs and the law.

Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz is PAAM’s president and helped to bring Stecker to SMC.

Stecker has served as a prosecutor for 18 years in Branch and Kalamazoo counties as PAAM traffic safety resources prosecutor. “When it comes to medical marihuana and drugged driving, Ken is the go-to person for law enforcement in Michigan,” SMC President Dr. David M. Mathews said. “It’s very exciting to have somebody come speak to us who’s right in the middle of such an important topic, and of such a moving target of changing laws.”

“In Michigan in 2013, we had 952 crash fatalities, 449 alcohol- and/or drug-related fatalities, or 47 percent. Alcohol crash numbers are going down while drug-related incidents go up. When they draw an individual’s blood, they hit, on average at the Michigan State Police laboratory, three different drugs in that person’s system. We had a soccer mom in Oakland County, dropping her son at school, with six different drugs in her system. I got a police report from Clare County for someone who tried to pass and hit a vehicle head-on with seven different drugs in her system,” Stecker said.

People who drive under the influence of marihuana double their risk of being in a car crash. About one in 10 daily marihuana users becomes dependent.

“We’re one of four states which spell marihuana with an ‘h,’ ” Stecker said. “Methamphetamine is a problem in southern counties: Cass, St. Joseph, Branch, Hillsdale. Thirty-three percent of motor vehicle fatalities test positive for drugs. Sixty-five percent of injured drivers nationally, according to a University of Maryland study, tested positive for either alcohol or commonly-abused drugs.”

Describing the current prescription drug culture in the United States as “Pharmageddon,” Stecker said in 2012 there were 4.2 billion U.S. prescriptions filled for such substances as pain reliever Vicodin, Xanax, the sleep drug Ambien and anti-depressant Zoloft. Xanax is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders caused by depression.

Michigan’s rate of death from unintentional drug poisoning almost quadrupled since 1999, driven by an increase in overdoses involving prescription drugs.

Unlike the .08 limit the law defines as legally intoxicated, there is no corresponding law defining the level of impairment allowable for drugged drivers. Michigan in March 2013 expanded operating while intoxicated, adding the category “intoxicating substances” to liquor and controlled substances. The addition encompasses vapors and fumes.

“The big one they love to huff is Dust-Off computer cleaner. They will take up their noses Axe hair spray, Raid, Lemon Pledge, anything you can think of because it’s cheap. In Jackson County, gold, silver and red spray paints are behind the counter at hardware stores. One officer found 22 cans of Dust-Off in a car,” Stecker said.

Regional law enforcement professionals in the morning heard from Jennifer Wilson, supervisor of the Michigan State Police Toxicology Unit in Lansing, and Stecker.