A sheriff's deputy completes a course to become a drug recognition expert and says his knowledge will increase arrests and help people who may need medical help.
While every sheriff's deputy is trained to recognize drivers under the influence of alcohol, only one in Hillsborough County has been state certified to pinpoint motorists impaired by other drugs.
When we first met Hillsborough sheriff's Deputy Lloyd Hyder in February, he was one of about 20 law enforcement officers in Florida training to be drug recognition experts. In November, Hyder became the first DRE in Hillsborough.
"I think the program will really help the Sheriff's Office," Hyder said. "It will lead to more drug driver arrests and also the identification of people under the influence who might need medical help immediately."
DREs are able to identify impairment by drugs such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana and some prescription drugs. While it is not against the law to have illegal drugs in one's system, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by illegal drugs.
Now, when Hillsborough DUI deputies come across someone they believe is impaired, but find no odor of alcohol, they call for Hyder.
DREs use all the tools a doctor would to check body temperature, blood pressure and pulse. They look for dilated or tightly constricted pupils through horizontal and vertical gaze tests. Scabs and tracks on the suspects' arms are also clues to previous drug use.
In recent months, Hyder said he has recognized two drivers impaired by the chemical gamma hydroxybutyrate, commonly known as GHB. An overdose of GHB could kill a person within hours.
In one of those case, officers had arrested the man, but Hyder saw that he was sweating profusely and after finding the drug GHB inside a Coke can in the man's car, Hyder insisted that he be taken to a hospital.
"Just imagine if they had taken him to jail," Hyder said.
GHB slows down the respiratory system and heart rate. It is a relaxer for bodybuilders sold in health stores under various names as an energizer or nutrient.
No other Hillsborough deputies are working toward DRE certification, but it could soon become a part of the sheriff's training program for DUI officers.
Maj. Robert Deluna, District III commander, said Hyder could help train other deputies to recognize different types of drug impairment.
"It will enhance our drug enforcement and DUI apprehension because some of the DUIs we have on the streets are something other than alcohol," Deluna said. "It takes a DRE to determine what type of drug these people are on."
_ Tim Grant