MERIDIAN -- Idaho's law enforcement officers are reporting a growing problem on the roads. They are seeing more drivers who are under the influence of prescription drugs. In fact, the impaired driving coordinator for Idaho State Police calls the problem an epidemic.
"There is an absolute epidemic of people driving under the influence of prescription drugs," said Sgt. Dean Matlock, state impaired driving coordinator for Idaho State Police.
Matlock says nationwide more drivers are impaired by cannabis and prescription depressants than alcohol. He says the trend is making its way to Idaho.
"I know anecdotally from those of us working, more often than not, we have evaluations where alcohol isn't even a part of it," said Matlock.
To stay ahead of the trend officers from across southwest Idaho are being trained on the advanced techniques to specifically detect the drug-impaired driver. For example, Matlock says the eyes of someone who's high on drugs may jerk differently than an alcohol-impaired driver when given the eye tracking sobriety test.
"The training gives us a few more tools that help us detect drug-impaired drivers, as well as alcohol-impaired drivers," said Valley County Sheriff's deputy Matt Bannon.
Bannon says the training recently helped him recognize and arrest a driver impaired from bath salts, a synthetic drug with effects similar to cocaine and amphethamine.
"Because I have this advanced training it helped me detect some of the things other officers may have missed. And I was able to make an arrest," said Bannon.
Officers also learn DUI patrols are now 24/7, not just late at night or on the weekends.
"Now instead of just looking like we used to for the impaired driver from about 11 at night until about two in the morning, now we've got to be aware of maybe the soccer mom who's taking all sorts of anti-anxiety tranquilizers," said Matlock.
Matlock says the consequences for driving impaired on prescription drugs, even if they are legally prescribed, are the same as driving drunk.
"That's one of the things that I really want to preach, prescription drugs you've got to know how it affects you before you drive. If you take it and say, 'Well, I'm okay to drive but I feel really sleepy,' you're impaired," said Matlock.
Matlock says there are no statistics available to pinpoint the number of prescription drug impaired drivers in Idaho. But he sees enough to believe it's a growing problem.
"It's just an epidemic," said Matlock.