Sam Houston State University Works to Reduce Impaired Driving in the Workplace

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Representatives from Walker County and Huntsville learned about the signs and symptoms of illegal and prescription drug use from Lt. James Jackson of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

To promote safe driving in the workplace, the Impaired Driving Initiatives at Sam Houston State University is holding workshops throughout Texas to educate employers about the signs and symptoms of drug impairment among employees.

Drug Impairment Training for Texas Employers (DITTE), which is funded by the Texas Department of Transportation in an effort to reduce fatalities on state roads, has been presented to Walker County and the city of Huntsville, the San Jacinto River Authority, Lone Star College, the city of Amarillo, the city of Waco, and numerous employers including JBT AeroTech in Houston. The free program educates supervisors and managers from both public agencies and private companies on how to identify drug or alcohol abuse among workers on the job and to address those issues with policies and procedures.

“I hope they take this back to their work environment and use it to create a safe workplace,” said Lt. James Jackson, a drug recognition expert with the Texas Department of Public Safety.

he DITTE program is part of the Impaired Driving Initiatives at Sam Houston State University, which trains law enforcement officers, school employees and employers on detecting drugged drivers. The mission of the program is to save lives, prevent traffic-related health care visits, and lower economic costs. Cecelia Marquart, Director of the Impaired Driving Initiatives Program at SHSU, said she is thrilled with the response the DITTE program is receiving on a state-wide basis. “Obviously, this training is addressing a need; since October 2011, 160 participants have been trained demonstrating there is a need for the DITTE training.”

Lt. Jackson, who is stationed in the DPS Tyler office, presented the latest workshop at the Walker Education Center in Huntsville. It was attended by 34 supervisors and managers from Walker County and Huntsville, including representatives from roads and bridges, juvenile services, the county treasurer’s office, purchasing, justice of the peace, precincts, aquatics, information technology and special prosecutors.

“It’s neat; I know what to look for now,” said Brady Larson, who works in the Huntsville Wastewater Treatment Plant. “There were things I never knew, like someone could be walking around work drinking a Monster with alcohol.”

Picture of alcoholic and non-alcoholic energy drink.
Among the substances that may cause driving impairment are non-alcoholic and alcoholic energy drinks.
Participants are given an overview of the seven different categories of prescription and illegal drugs, including depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, dissociative anesthetics, narcotic analgesics, inhalants and cannabis, as well as the signs and symptoms of impairment. The program also includes common drug combinations as well as new drugs and substances on the market, including synthetic marijuana, bath salts, alcohol-infused whipped cream, Dust Off inhalants, and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic energy drinks. It also discusses common devices used to hide drugs, including the computer mouse, batteries, golf balls, and energy drink containers.

“You know this stuff is out there, but you don’t know the extent they will go to hide it,” said James Ray Nicker and Danny Kuykendall of Walker County Precinct 4. “It is definitely usable information.”

Participants were encouraged to follow their own agency or company policy on drugs and alcohol, and managers were provided tips on how to approach impaired employees or to make improvements to existing policies. The policy should recognize the importance of the issue in the workplace and include the role of the employer, recognition of behavior changes, a clear understanding of the process, a discussion of local issues and a referral list for employees.

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Partipants examine the alcohol content of energy drinks.

“We want you to recognize the symptoms, intervene, make documentation and follow the company policy,” said Lt. Jackson.

Some of the elements that may be included in a policy are a motor vehicle records check; alcohol and drug testing; accident reporting; levels of disciplinary action; substance abuse treatment coverage; and a driver’s agreement.

Any discussion of impaired employees should be based on firsthand observations and the totality of the circumstances, including physical or movement changes, eyes, speech, motions, actions, carelessness, absences, and trouble getting along with co-workers, to name a few.

“It’s important for everyone to stay on top of what’s happening,” said Judge Mike Countz, Justice of the Peace in Walker County Precinct 2. “You need to try and stay ahead of it because it changes so much…it effects the entire community.”

For more information on the DITTE program, contact Regina Guthrie at (936) 294-4640 or at icc_rae@shsu.edu or visit the Impaired Driving Initiatives Web site at www.cjcenter.org/idi/DITTE.

Member of The Texas State University System