A bill banning the abuse of methadone while driving cleared its first hurdle on its way to the Arizona Senate floor on Wednesday morning.
Sen. Jim Waring said he introduced SB 1003 after watching a 5 Investigates report on driving under the influence of methadone.
Methadone is a cheap, long-lasting narcotic commonly used to treat heroin addicts. An average dose -- between 10 and 300 milligrams -- is comparable to 10-300 Vicodin tablets, experts said.
Proponents of the bill who testified at the committee hearing Wednesday were several Cottonwood girls who were nearly killed when a man crashed his pickup truck into their car.
Nevertheless, a number of people opposed the bill, including several methadone users who said it had changed their life.
"If I don't have methadone, I'll use heroin," Danny Ferrel said. "I've never had an accident. I drive every day."
Medical experts also argued that the drug does not affect a person's ability to function.
"It's legal. It's safe," said Dr. George Stavros. "It's not a drug of abuse. It's not used for that."
Physician's assistant Rick Christenson agreed.
"Methadone is an incredibly effective medication," he said. "People stabilize rapidly on it. If you're a racecar driver, you can drive a race car on it. If you're a surgeon, you can do surgery on it."
In the end, five senators voted in favor of the bill, one against it, and one senator did not vote.
Though the bill which passed banned using methadone while driving, senators said they will probably add an amendment before it goes to the Senate floor.
The amendment would let people drive under the influence of the drug if it's used as prescribed; if a driver has more than his or her prescribed amount in his or her system, he or she can receive a DUI citation.
June 18, 2009