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a. The DWI Offense

b. Monitoring & Supervision

c. Effective Programs

a. The DWI Offense

Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) accounts for 1.4 million arrests in the United States every year. While DWI is often thought of as strictly an alcohol driving offense, DWI includes both alcohol and drugs in most states. Strategies to reduce drugged driving need to be part of all initiatives to reduce alcohol-impaired driving in the U.S.

The Institute for Behavior and Health (IBH) works to reduce illegal drug use. This includes driving with blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or higher and driving with any BAC when under the age of 21. IBH is leading a major new effort to create a model program to handle DWI offenders, whether the illegal drug used was alcohol, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine or any other illegal drug, including the nonmedical use of prescription drugs. There is a large and rapidly growing body of knowledge that shows that many impaired drivers use both alcohol and drugs.

The focus of national attention must not be on alcohol OR drugs but on both alcohol AND drugs as serious threats to highway safety. A clear and powerful public education campaign focused on the dangers of alcohol- and drug-impaired driving is needed. The message must be reinforced by strong law enforcement as well as better management of DWI offenders. This comprehensive new strategy will achieve a wide range of important public health goals including saving lives, reducing pathological drinking and illegal drug use, and recruiting more people into substance abuse treatment.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration utilizes the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) to report rates of alcohol DWI offenses. Read the 2008 Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fact Sheet.

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b. Monitoring & Supervision

To reduce impaired driving fatalities and injuries, people who are found to have driven under the influence of drugs and alcohol must be monitored to prevent continued drug use as a condition of their being able to drive. Licenses should be revoked for all offenders until it can be determined that the drivers are drug-free and pose no further threat to others' safety as a result of illegal drug use. Monitoring through random drug tests can be very effective.

DWI offenders should be assessed for drug abuse and dependence, with those in need of treatment or rehabilitation offered access to the appropriate programs. Even those who may not need treatment do require random drug tests to ensure that they remain drug free for a substantial period of time after conviction for drugged driving.

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c. Effective Programs

An example of a successful program that deals with DWI offenders is the 24/7 Sobriety Project, which while focused on alcohol use, applies to both alcohol and drug using DWI offenders. Close monitoring and frequent drug and alcohol testing on repeat DWI offenders significantly reduces both substance use and rates of DWI offenses. Offenders are aware of the swift and certain consequences for violation of the no-use standard which keeps them on target and refraining from drug use.

Started in South Dakota under the inspired vision of Attorney General Larry Long and with the resourceful support of Bill Mickelson, this program is being expanded and integrated into new state programs. The 24/7 Sobriety Project received the John P. McGovern Award for Prevention in June, 2009 from the Institute for Behavior and Health, Inc.

An evaluation findings report on the long-term effects of South Dakota's 24/7 Sobriety Project upon DUI recidivism demonstrates that the program is very successful in addressing offender sobriety while individuals are in the program. Participants who participate in twice-daily breath tests have lower rates of DUI recidivism when compared to individuals who do not participate in the program. For repeat offenders, even minimal days of participation in 24/7 Sobriety positively impact recidivism rates and individuals with at least 30 days or program participation demonstrate a greater reduction in recidivism.

To learn more about this innovative program visit the 24/7 Sobriety Project website.

The 24/7 Sobriety Project has many similarities to the HOPE Probation program, whose creator Judge Steven S. Alm received the John P. McGovern Award for leadership in drug abuse prevention. These two programs also have many similarities to the Physicians' Health Programs which have been a central research focus of IBH for the past four years. While each of these programs has unique elements and work with distinctive populations, they all address substance use disorders and all involve the standard of no-use of alcohol and other drugs which is enforced by frequent random drug and alcohol testing linked to swift, certain, but not severe, consequences.

The standard of abstinence that is carefully monitored and strictly enforced has been found, in all of these programs, to produce low levels of relapse to alcohol and other drug use and high levels of successful program completion. The evaluations of both 24/7 Sobriety and HOPE Probation have shown that this strategy also leads to low rates of new crimes and low levels of incarceration for these high-risk criminal offender populations.

This new strategy is distinctly different from both the current standard of drug treatment and the management of criminal offenders in the community. It offers hope of dramatically improving the outcomes for a broad range of people with substance use disorders.

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