Last year, when a truck driver killed four North Central Texas College softball players in a horrific traffic collision, I was appalled to hear the driver’s excuse. He claimed that he was distracted by something in the cabin. Why would that cause him to drive across the highway and cross over the median into oncoming traffic?
The real reason just came to light. Th truth is what you might have expected, but with this wrinkle: Russell Staley was high on synthetic drugs when he crashed into the NCTC bus.
Synthetic Drugs Put the Public at Serious Risk
For those who do not know what synthetic drugs are, they are chemicals that can be smoked or vaporized to cause elevated mood, altered perception and psychosis. Often the synthetic cannabinoids, a/k/a “fake marijuana” and “K2” also cause confusion, extreme anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations.
Until recently, synthetic drugs were openly sold at gas stations and convenience stores. The Texas Poison Center reported 464 cases of synthetic marijuana exposure in 2013 and that number increased by almost 60 percent to 782 in 2014. So far this year, poison centers nationwide have seen a fourfold increase in reported exposure, in part due to highly dangerous batches in Texas and six other states.
Texas is behind only Mississippi and New York in numbers of K2-exposure cases reported to the poison control center.
Make no bones about it, this is an extremely dangerous drug. And that a commercial truck driver would attempt to operate a tractor-trailer on this substance is nothing short of shocking.
Fortunately, a Texas statute banning K2 that took effect in September. Unfortunately, manufacturers change the chemical compounds regularly in order to skirt legislation. This makes the drugs harder to detect and harder to regulate.
National Transportation Safety Board Recommends Testing Truck Drivers for Synthetic Cannabinoids
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its results from the crash investigation on Tuesday, citing “failure of the truck-tractor driver to control his vehicle due to incapacitation likely stemming from his use of synthetic cannabinoids.,” as the probable cause.
The report also recommended that regulations regarding testing of truck drivers be updated to reflect synthetic cannabinoids and other impairing substances currently not being tested. I wholeheartedly agree with the NTSB. Truck drivers need to be tested for this dangerous substance, which is growing widely in popularity.
My heart goes out to the families of these young women. As we make headway against drunk driving, we now must fight this new trend in impaired driving.