Ohio Medics Question DUI Blood Work

Many questions come to light as bill is scheduled to take effect.


SUZANNE HOHOLIK, The Columbus Dispatch | | Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A law that takes effect Friday will allow emergency medical workers to draw blood from drivers who crash and are suspected of using drugs or alcohol.

Only physicians, registered nurses, qualified technicians, chemists and phlebotomists currently can take blood from drivers suspected of operating vehicles while under the influence.

Adding emergency medical workers would allow samples to be drawn sooner. Law enforcement has a two-hour window to get an accurate sample.

But the law isn't cut and dried. Fire departments can opt out of participating, and there are no final rules guiding EMS agencies.

"There are so many questions and details on how everything is going to work," said Jim Carney of the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters.

Can drivers be forced to give a sample? Who will train EMS workers to use the different police collection kits? What is the chain of command when dealing with evidence? Would this interfere with patient care?

Carney said getting a blood sample isn't a simple task.

Paramedics start IVs to help patients in need. Drawing two vials of blood from that catheter risks blowing the patient's vein and having to put in a second IV, he said.

"All of this takes time."

The State Board of Emergency Medical Services, which opposed the bill when it was introduced, approved draft rules last month but won't approve final guidelines for the state's 1,300 emergency medical agencies until October, said Richard N. Rucker, executive director of the state EMS division.

Columbus police have said they won't ask paramedics to draw blood at crash scenes because so many hospitals are close.

"This law, as I see it, does not apply to us who work in urban areas," police Sgt. Jeffrey Sowards said last month at the state EMS board meeting.

He said the law would be more useful in rural areas, where transporting patients to hospitals takes longer.

"We get people to the hospital in 10 to 15 minutes, and they can take blood in a more controlled environment," said Dr. David Keseg, medical director for the Columbus Division of Fire.

But Franklin County Sheriff Jim Karnes wants paramedics to draw blood at crash scenes.

"I would hate to see us lose a case against a drunken driver because we didn't make the time limit," Karnes said.

His office gets blood samples from about 30 percent of the 300 to 500 drivers charged with operating while under the influence each year, said Sgt. Carl Hickey of the traffic division. He could not say how many of these cases involve crashes.

Fairfield County Sheriff Dave Phalen said his deputies rarely need blood samples and won't ask EMS workers there to draw blood. Deputies instead use Breathalyzers or urine samples.

Madison Township police officials told their fire counterparts that they won't ask them to draw blood, said Assistant Fire Chief Robert Bates.

Many EMS agencies haven't decided what they'll do even though the law is about to take effect.

Harold Williams, assistant chief of the West Licking Joint Fire Department, said the law could put emergency medical workers in the middle of a bad situation at a crash scene.

"Say you're now the person who's driving and they haven't arrested you and they want us to draw and you say 'no,' " Williams said. "What do we do? All we want to do is provide the care."

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