“Everyone knows what alcohol and marijuana smell like, but you don’t know what different drugs do,” he said.
Depressants are prevalent in Augusta, but most deputies don’t know how to determine whether the driver is under the influence. Lamkin said people often ignore the prescription warning to “not operate heavy machinery” and get behind the wheel anyway.
“Sometimes you can take the medicated dose your doctor gives you and it will still make you less safe to operate machinery,” he said.
Three traffic division deputies will complete the training class, funded by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, in Tifton, Ga., this week. Three other officers, including Lamkin, had previously trained to become drug-recognition experts.
Fewer than 1 percent of the 50,000 sworn officers in Georgia have the training. South Georgia especially needs more certified officers.
“It’s very intensive,” said Jonathan Fuss, who manages impaired driving training programs for the Georgia Police Academy. “A lot of people shy away from it because they’ve heard the horror stories. We try to explain to these guys that nothing worth having is easy.”
During the nine-day course, officers learn to identify impaired drivers by checking blood pressure, muscle tone, pulse rate, pupil size and physiological effects.
After classroom training, officers have to put the 12-step evaluations to use on live subjects to determine whether they are impaired and what type of substance causes the impairment.
An extensive written test also follows.
“It’s not an easy class by any means,” Lamkin said. “It takes a dedicated officer to go through this training.”
According to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, drug-recognition experts are better able to prosecute driving under the influence cases because drug tests often are suppressed in court. In those cases, evidence such as elevated body temperature and blood pressure can reinforce the arrest.
Lamkin said he hopes the drug-recognition experts can help cut down on impaired driving and educate the public about impairment, especially from prescription drugs.
A drug-recognition expert can be called in by any deputy who suspects a driver might be under the influence but is not trained well enough to make the determination.