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Opioid Crisis in East Tennessee Now Leading to Drug-Impaired Drivers

TAZEWELL, Tenn. (WATE) - There were 431 crashes last year involving drivers who tested positive for drugs in Tennessee.

A recently shared study by the national Governor's Highway Safety Association reports that in 2015, drugs were present in 43 percent of fatal crashes, with a known test result, more often than alcohol was present.

Frame after frame of memories sit on Sherri Hoskins desk, reminders of her daughter Afton.

"Her heart was bigger than the state of Texas," said Hoskins.

Afton died in April 2002, her parents say at the hands of a drunk and impaired drive.

"They were leaving for senior trip the next day, so she was going to get silly string. She was on Highway 63. She topped the hill and a repeat multiple offender that was on alcohol and drugs hit her head on at a high rate of speed and killed her," Hoskins said.

Sixteen years later, Hoskins says they're devastated opioids are still destroying so much.

"It has to stop. We need stricter law," she said.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol says impaired drivers are simply a danger.

"As a general rule, it seems like our drug-induced impairment arrests are making a slight increase," said Lt. Don Boshears.

In 2017, THP says 211 people were killed in crashes involving a driver who tested positive for drugs. Comparatively, 219 people were killed in crashes involving an alcohol impaired driver. Last year, there were 6,128 crashes involving drivers who were under the influence of alcohol.

"It's really important, if you are going to take prescribed medication that you know how it effects you before you actually get behind the wheel of a vehicle," added Lt. Boshears.

In the Knoxville district, Lt. Boshears says their DUI arrests are down by about 20, compared to last year. Compiled data and statistics are used to address impaired driving problems.

"We'll look at past data where DUI crashes have occurred and we'll try to concentrate our efforts in those areas, just trying to think outside the box to combat the problem," said Lt. Boshears.

This reality is something Hoskins thinks about every time she gets in the car.

"I pray for everyone's family because I don't want to see them walk the path that I walk every day," said Hoskins.

It is illegal in the state of Tennessee to drive under the influence of drugs. Penalties are no different than alcohol impaired driving. Penalties are dependent on the number of offenses the driver has accrued which become more severe. Ultimately, they can become a felon offense.

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