SOUTHINGTON, Ohio (WKBN) - The Ohio State Highway Patrol is putting a stronger emphasis on combating drug abuse, and there's a simple thing every driver can do to help troopers tackle the problem.
Law enforcement is responding to more calls about people using drugs and driving.
In October, a driver crashed in Warren and sent four people to the hospital. First responders had to give the driver an opiate reversal drug.
Stories like this are why Highway Patrol is revamping its anti-drug efforts.
"We're finding a lot more impaired drivers, a lot more drug usage, a lot more weapons," Lt. Jeff Greene said. "When they get behind the wheel of a vehicle and they take it on the highways, now they're increasing the risk and percentage of people they can possibly affect."
Highway Patrol is seeing drugs like heroin and cocaine, which seems to be making a comeback.
"It seems like it's the opiates, whether it's your painkillers, your heroin itself, we're starting to see a continued mixture of the fentanyl and the carfentanyl," Greene said.
In 2016, there were over 13,000 drug violations statewide, according to Highway Patrol data.
"It's startling because with each drug violation, someone's life is affected," Greene said.
He said there were also 25,000 impaired driving arrests.
With the new emphasis on anti-drug measures, Highway Patrol seized 156 pounds of heroin last year - almost a 300 percent increase from 2015.
The Drug Recognition Expert program is growing and cadets are learning exactly what troopers see on the roads.
"When they come out, they have had a level of education and what to look for to remove not only impaired drivers from alcohol, but also from narcotics," Greene said.
Another aspect of the effort is increased canine patrol presence.
"From six canines in the early '90s, up to 34 right now. So there's a substantial increase for that and, unfortunately, the statistics show the need for that."
There's something every driver can do to help with the problem - if you see something that doesn't look right, say something.
Report suspected impaired drivers, whether drunk or on drugs, by calling #677.
"If you suspect somebody is doing something - if we get someone out there and they're not doing anything, it might just be the presence of law enforcement that takes away their distracted driving and forces them to drive within the regulations of the law. That's perfect, we've met our goal as far as curbing someone's driving behavior," Greene said. "If we do see someone and ends up being impaired, then it probably wouldn't have happened without that #677 caller."
Highway Patrol is stepping up its criminal patrol operations in general, which also includes anything having to do with crime, guns and illegal currency in addition to drugs.
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