Drug Recognition Experts Combating Drugged-Driving

The Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) program, procedure, and police officers constitute a systems approach to identifying, apprehending, and prosecuting the individual who drives while under the influence of a drug or drugs.  The program and procedures were initially developed in the 1980s by Los Angeles, California, Police Department (LAPD) traffic enforcement officers.  A primary impetus for the development of DRE was the recognition that many drivers were impaired by drugs, in addition to, or other than alcohol.

Drug Recognition Expert officers, commonly referred to as DREs, have specialized training and develop skills in observing, documenting, and interpreting clinical and behavioral signs and symptoms of drug influence. In many United States courts the DRE officer is allowed to state an expert opinion about an individual's ability to safely operate a vehicle. In February of 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a DRE’s testimony could be introduced in court without a challenge to the DRE’s qualifications as an “expert.” Further, the DRE officer may be allowed to state an opinion as to the specific drug or drugs, based on categories, that the person is impaired by.  

Although jurisdictions frequently define “under the influence” differently, generically under the influence means that a person’s ability to safely operate a vehicle has been decreased as a result of the presence of a drug (s). Thus, driving while fatigued is not “under the influence,” whereas driving fatigued due to taking a sleep-inducing medication is. Although the primary focus of DRE training is Driving Under the Influence (DUI) enforcement, the knowledge and skills mastered by DREs have applicability to many other fields, including drugs in the workplace, assessment of the accuracy of witness reports, domestic violence, child abuse, transportation and delivery of drugs, including controlled substances, and countless more.  In addition, DRE-related training has been provided to medical professionals, including occupational nurses, physicians, psychiatrists, psychiatric technicians, social workers and public health professionals.  DRE expertise may be helpful whenever drug-influence is at issue.

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IACP DEC Program