Understanding New York Intoxicated Alcohol Assessments

In November 2006, the New York State Legislature declared that ALL alcohol screenings and evaluations for DWI cases must be performed by OASAS-certified evaluators. OASAS stands for Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services. You can Google OASAS to find a certified evaluator and/or treatment provider in your county. Their website is very informative and quite easy to navigate.

Legally, you must be tested for alcohol abuse/dependence within 30 days of your initial onset if you had a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of 0.12 or higher on your chemical breath test. An assessment is simply a written test, it could even be a true or false test.

The next step in the process, so to speak, is an “assessment” for alcohol abuse/dependence within 30 days of the initial onset if you had a BAC of .15 or higher at your chemical breath test. Some evaluators take one long session to complete one evaluation, while others may take up to four sessions to complete one evaluation. The cost of these sessions ranges from $80 to $90 per session. So one long evaluation can cost around $175 or four can cost up to $400. An evaluation is an “interview” with a counselor, and may (may or may not be up to the evaluator) include a urine test (NOTE: tests Urine tests check for specific drugs while urine tests are general) to detect drugs. It is also common for the counselor to obtain “assurances” from you. A guarantee is the contact information of people who know you and have seen you drink. These people may or may not be contacted to confirm what you tell the evaluator. The theory is that people with drug/alcohol problems lie, and therefore these collateral sources would be a potential barometer of their truthfulness and/or sobriety.

The next step for the evaluator is to determine if you are an alcohol/drug abuser and have a diagnosis of abuse or if you are chemically (alcohol/drug) dependent. This is a critical determination and should not be taken lightly by anyone.

My problem (I have a lot of problems with the process) with these evaluations is that they can be very subjective. The opinions of the assessors carry a lot of weight with the Tribunal as well as with the prosecutor and in the circumstances of an interview(s) they (the assessors) may not get the full ie. full picture. I had a client who went in for an evaluation and the evaluator decided on a year of dependency treatment because the client said that he drank more than 5 drinks at a time. By the way, 5 drinks for a man or 4 drinks for a woman at one time is classified as binge drinkers. BINGE is BAD in the world of evaluations. Imagine if for a year 2-3 times a week you stand up and say, “Hello, my name is Bob and I’m an alcoholic,” and you may start to see the bleak picture if you really are a person without a problem. These sessions would be expensive in terms of time and money but more than that unfair in my opinion. In the example above, no one accounted for Bob’s height, weight, tolerance, what he ate, or even the time he consumed Bob’s five drinks.

When I practiced as a medical doctor of chiropractic (prior to my legal career) I was trained in the use of a psychological manual called the DSM-III (this is now the updated DSM-IV). DSM stands for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Think of the DSM as “Abnormal Psychology for Health Care Providers” and you’ll have a better idea. This manual enables physicians, psychologists, social workers, addiction specialists, and a host of other mental health care providers to quickly search for a set of symptoms, patterns, and other behaviors and make a “potential” diagnosis or diagnoses.

As a doctor, I needed to differentiate (and sometimes rule out a diagnosis) between physical illness and psychological illness. Often, the patients had a layer of psychological problems in addition to their disc, nerve, or muscle injury. Now the reason I mention and explain all this is because this manual is the reference guide for testers. As a DWI defense attorney, the handbook has new meaning for me and my clients.

The manual describes alcohol abuse as ANY “harmful” use of alcohol. Harmful use of alcohol can be further described as any use that causes physical and/or mental harm. We all know that alcohol, by its very nature, causes brain cells to die (alcohol blocks oxygen to the brain), so a diagnosis of abuse is very common.

Legally, alcohol abuse simply requires education. Often this can be in the form of the New York State DMV’s 7-week Drunk Driving Program (DDP). The Court may enforce compliance with treatment, rehabilitation, and education associated with any conviction and/or conviction. In some New York counties, this must be filed prior to a final settlement of the case, but in most others, it is filed as a condition of discharge with the Court (after final disposition).

The question on everyone’s mind is where is the line between alcohol/drug “abuse” and alcohol/drug “dependency”?

Well, in general, the following are some of the behaviors that alcohol dependent people can display:

1. Drink only one type of alcoholic beverage or prefer one brand.

2. Only go to events, meetings and parties that serve alcohol.

3. Being able to drink more and more over time by increasing your tolerance for alcohol.

So far, these first three sound like my college days or the behavior patterns of many of us, but keep reading,

4. Making the decision to stop drinking and then feeling compelled to drink.

5. Drink to relieve a hangover (after a night of heavy drinking).

6. A compulsion to drink (feeling that you have to drink).

7. Tremor and discomfort if you don’t drink (alcohol withdrawal symptoms).

If you become DEPENDENT on alcohol, you should seek help. These last 4 criteria indicate people who have a problem with alcohol.

If we look at what the DSM-IV says we find the following:

If you have (show) 3 of the following 7 symptoms (within a year), you are classified as alcohol dependent. By the way, “dependence” on alcohol is a good way of saying you have “alcoholism.”

-You neglect activities (quitting your job, social and joyful activities) due to alcohol,

-Drinks excessively (large amounts for long periods of time) starting to drink early or late,

-You are unable to control your drinking or reduce your drinking,

-You continue to drink even though it is affecting you mentally, physically and socially,

-Spends most of the time in activities that involve the consumption of alcohol,

-You have nausea, tremors, anxiety and sweating if you do not drink,

-You can really save it (you have a very high tolerance).

My personal opinion of helping thousands of people as a chiropractor and as a lawyer is that people with drug/alcohol problems usually know it. If they do not resolve it early and acknowledge it, they will eventually be forced by the Court/Legal System to deal with their issue with more pain and cost to themselves and their families in the long run.

For me there is nothing sadder than seeing someone throw away their life and their potential as human beings due to the misuse of drugs or alcohol.

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