An unimaginable dual tragedy struck one family who lost not only a beloved father, but also his adult daughter when the motorcycle on which they were riding was struck by an alleged drunk driver in Easthampton. According to news reports, the driver was high on heroin, and reportedly veered into the opposite lane of travel on Route 5, slamming head-on into the motorcycle, driven by a 62-year-old man from Holyoke and his 29-year-old daughter, from New York. Both were pronounced dead at the scene.
Witnesses say the impaired driver didn't swerve or attempt to take any evasive action prior to the crash. In fact, he appeared to be asleep. He and his passenger were treated for minor injuries, and later arrested - him on two counts of vehicular homicide impaired by drugs and operating under the influence of drugs, and her for possession of heroin.
Personal injury lawyers in Boston fear the state may see a sharp increase in drug-related crashes, as more people are using heroin as a substitute for the pricier and harder-to-get prescription opiates that have hooked so many in recent years.
In April, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency in the state as heroin addiction and overdose has become a serious problem. From November through February, state police say at least 185 people died of suspected heroin overdoses. That figure is actually a low estimate, as it does not include deaths tallied in the state's three largest cities, including Boston.
The number of all opioid-related deaths, which includes heroin, OxyContin and other prescription painkillers, shot up from 363 in 2000 to 642 in 2011, the last year for which statewide numbers are available. We are on track to far exceed that figure this year.
The governor's emergency order grants first responders the ability to carry an overdose drug called Narcan, and also makes the prescription more readily accessible to family and friends of those struggling with addiction. It also has resulted in the allocation of $20 million for additional recovery services for addicts.
While the latter may have an indirect impact on the number of impaired driving fatalities, it may take time before we see any real results on the roads. Heroin is an especially dangerous drug for those behind the wheel, according to researchers at the University of Hawaii.
A person under the influence of heroin is more likely to be drowsy or "nod off." Reaction time is also significantly impaired, and visual acuity is dulled to a great degree. Feelings of nausea and vomiting are also common, and might impair a person's ability to operate a vehicle safely.
The exact effects of heroin can be difficult to anticipate, as there is no regulation of the drug and the exact content varies. Police suspect a lot of the heroin circulating currently in Massachusetts has been cut with the prescription painkiller fentanyl, which makes it especially potent - and dangerous.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently commissioned a $5.7 million study to determine the crash risk of drugged driving, after an annual Roadside Survey in 2011 found over 9,000 drivers at 60 sites were under the influence of drugs.
Mass. Gen. Law Chapter 90, Section 24 bars the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana, narcotic drugs, depressants, glue vapors or stimulant substances. Additionally, law enforcement routinely trains drug recognition experts to help recognize on site when a driver is under the influence of controlled substances.
Those who sustain injures as a result of collisions with drug-impaired drivers are entitled to compensation for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.