The shocking news today that the driver suspected of causing the horrific triple-fatal crash on the NSW south coast this week was likely under the influence of methadone throws the NSW police’s drug-testing regime into sharp focus.
Methadone and other opitates, whether legally obtained or not, are not tested under the police’s high-profile roadside drug-testing yet are known to cause driver impairment.
In fact many on methadone (to wean heroin users off the illegal substance) have been known to ’nod off’ or go to sleep at the wheel and crash their cars.
Not even heroin is tested for, a known sleep inducer.
So too amphetamine users, who tend to drive for too long without sleep or drive aggressively.
And the drug of choice of the rich, cocaine, is also not tested for yet has similar effects to speed.
But the police tests only target methamphetamine (speed or ice), ecstasy (MDMA) and most controversially, drivers with traces of cannabis (THC), where driver impairment is not under serious question but thousands of law-abiding citizens are being made criminals as a result.
This is just plain wrong. Politicians, especially health and police ministers, should take note, it’s a stupid testing regime and not making our roads safer if some drugs are in and others, known to be more lethal when used by motorists, are out.
If anything, evidence suggests cannabis users tend to slow down and be more careful when under the influence of a joint or two, and it’s no surprise why amphetamine is known as ‘speed’: users behind the wheel can be similar to alcohol-affected ones and should be removed from the road.
Police also do not test for tranquiliser-type prescription drugs such as sleeping tablets (benzodiazepines) or codeine-based ones: only in the case of an accident where the driver is suspected of being under the influence of drugs at the time.
It may be a bit too late then…
If road safety is the aim of the testing, why is Australia one of the only countries targeting cannabis users where no levels of impairment are measured? It seems discriminatory and pointless, especially in an age where society is maturing and decriminalising cannabis use for medicinal and recreational use.
There is no doubt medical cannabis interferes with the testing regime, as even minute traces of THC, the active compound in cannabis, are detected in the saliva tests and we know hemp food such as hemp seed or oil is becoming more popular and consumed regularly in a health-conscious age.
However, police maintain it won’t interfere with the tests, but other cannabis experts beg to disagree and the question is yet to be fully resolved.
We know the war on drugs is costly and useless, as record illegal-drug seizures attest, and many, including former ice addicts, say if cannabis was decriminalised, ‘ice’ would no longer be the huge problem it is now.
But some politicians, police, health bureaucrats and ’big pharma’ (the pharmaceutical industry) are hell-bent on keeping cannabis users (around two million in Australia according to some sources) on the wrong side of the law.
This is patently an unfair political testing regime and should be changed, removing cannabis until such a time as proper impairment levels can be measured.
We welcome roadside driver testing where safety of motorists is the end game and impairment-causing drugs such as speed and ice are tested for as well as heroin, cocaine, legal opiates and other driver-impairing drugs.
But drivers with methadone in their system are currently undetectable and a lethal danger to other road users.
In our own region, we recall the tragic triple fatality at Dyraaba near Casino in 2013 where two young kids and their father were killed when a driver with methadone in his system crashed into their car and was later jailed over the deaths.
Unlike amphetamines or opiates, cannabis testing, while no impairment is measured, is causing unrest among our youth and leading them to try other drugs not tested for, let alone the disrespect for the bad law and authority.