The first person to be convicted of drug-driving in Ireland is a terminally-ill man who has to take over 20 tablets a day.
Alan Croghan, a liver transplant patient, suffers from a number of illnesses and has less than 5 years to live. His conviction includes a 4-year road ban along with a €750 fine. He believes the case could have massive ramifications for other motorists on prescribed medications.
“1.5 million other Irish people on prescribed meds could be done like me”, he said. “They’ll be worried about being prosecuted under this new drug-driving law.”
When he was stopped by gardai on the N11 at Kilmacanogue outside Bray, Co Wicklow, on Good Friday 2017, he tested positive for benzodiazepines and opiates. Unlike alcohol testing kits, the drug testing equipment used in his case failed to give a specific reading level. He suspects Xanax and Solpadeine may have negatively affected the test results.
Mr Croghan, from Coolock in Dublin, says he informed the gardai he takes over 20 tablets per day. He even handed the police a list of his illnesses, which he carries around with him.
The subsequent conviction has astounded him.
“I’m actually really shocked by the conviction”, he said. “A number of doctors were behind me, sending letters for the court to corroborate my medical issues and medication. I feel hard done by. I have less than 5 years to live and this causes me so much stress.”
He added: “It’s just insane. This will have ramifications for all the other people on prescribed medication.”
“I was just taking the medication I was legally prescribed.”
Big increase in numbers arrested for drug-driving
The new provision of the Road Traffic Act (2016) allows Gardai to conduct drug detection testing at roadside checkpoints using the Drager 5000 analysis device. This device tests a driver’s saliva for traces of cannabis, cocaine, opiates and benzodiazepine.
A Garda report has highlighted a 15% increase in arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) in first 4 months of 2019. There were 2694 DUI arrests from January to April this year compared with 2343 for the corresponding period in 2018.
A Medical Bureau of Road Safety (MBRS) report says there has been a 43% increase in the number of blood and urine specimens submitted for analysis over the same period. Director of the MBRS, Professor Denis Cusack, said after alcohol cannabis was the most frequently detected drug in driving, followed by cocaine and then benzodiazepines.
Transport Minister Shane Ross said the relatively recent introduction of drug-driving tests has made a big contribution to tackling what he described as “killer behaviour”.
The Chief of the Road Safety Authority (RSA), Moyagh Murdock, said anyone driving under the influence of drugs is a clear danger to themselves and others. Many drivers believe certain drugs don’t impair them in the same way as alcohol. They also tend to overestimate their driving ability and show little understanding of how drugs affect their driving, she said.
Mr Croghan intends to appeal his conviction. The grounds for his appeal will include the lack of measurement of the amount of opiates in his system and the fact he was legally prescribed the medication.
He said: “The judge expressed the view that his hands were tied because of the nature of the prosecution brought, but he did say he would welcome an appeal of my case.”
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