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CHERRY HILL, N.J. (CBS) — The opioid epidemic that has gripped the nation is now spreading onto the highways. We often highlight the dangers of drinking and driving, but driving while high has become an all-too-common reality.
According to the National Safety Council, Americans are now more likely to die of an opioid overdose than a car crash. Officials now face the challenge of stopping those two statistics from merging.
On Feb. 20, a Newark, New Jersey bus driver was arrested. Police say she had to be revived with Narcan after overdosing on heroin and crashing a school bus with 12 special-needs students on board into a tree.
In November, a utility pole in Upper Darby was cracked in half after, authorities say, a driver high on heroin crashed into it.
And on Christmas Eve 2015, a man was killed on Route 70 in Cherry Hill.
“The cause of death was overdose, it wasn’t the crash itself,” Cherry Hill Police Sgt. John Ostermueller said.
These are some of the stories Eyewitness News has covered and you’ve heard about.
But for law enforcement, drivers under the influence of opioids or heroin is an ever-present danger.
“We are a town that is traffic-driven, we have two pipelines to the city of Camden, a source area and the city of Philadelphia,” Ostermueller said.
Like every municipality in America, the Cherry Hill Police Department is working to curb “drugged driving.”
In the early-morning hours, police say users will hit the roads immediately after traveling to get their fix. Later in the day, they may simply be running errands.
“They are trying to have this facade of being in control, they are taking the kids to the dance recital, they are participating in the PTA, they are going to work,” Dr. Deni Carise said.
Eyewitness News caught up with Carise on Facetime. She is the chief scientific officer at the Recovery Centers of America and says, if someone battling an addiction is still getting behind the wheel, immediate intervention is needed.
“If someone is driving while they are abusing opioids and you know that’s the case, try to get them into treatment,” Carise said. “Take their keys away from them, don’t let them drive.”
If all else fails, call the police.
“I’ve known quite a number of parents who have actually called the police and get them arrested,” Carise said.
As for drivers concerned about others on the road, police say there are signs to watch out for.
“One thing would be inappropriate speeds, inappropriate breaking, a lack of concentration. If you are stopped in traffic and you see that person dozing off, nodding back, certainly signs you should be concerned, call 911,” Ostermueller said.