WSP Coffee Shop Mug.jpg
Flickr/ Hideki Saito
No drugs here, just coffee.
The Washington State Patrol needs warm, able bodies to fill its ranks. Faced with a growing number


Washington State Patrol Recruitment Efforts Hampered By Pill Poppers

WSP Coffee Shop Mug.jpg
Flickr/ Hideki Saito
No drugs here, just coffee.
The Washington State Patrol needs warm, able bodies to fill its ranks. Faced with a growing number of troopers eligible for retirement, the state Legislature approved $5 million in funding to double the number or recruits the WSP trains and eventually sends out into the field this year. Typically, state patrol classes include 67 prospective troopers, with one graduating class a year. This year, two classes are planned.

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But there's a problem, and it comes in a familiar form: past prescription drug abuse. According to the WSP, a large number of recruits are being disqualified because they've popped pain pills or other prescription drugs in the past without a doctor's consent.

Thing is, it's a felony to take prescription drugs without a prescription - and the state patrol frowns on felonies. While there are plenty of people eager to get a job with the WSP, those in charge of hiring new troopers are having a difficult time finding applicants who haven't broken this law.

According to WSP Sgt. Troy Tomaras, an applicant's past drug use is almost always discovered somewhere during the vigorous screening process, be it the background check, the one-on-one interviews or the required lie-detector test.

"People try to get through the process at every step," says Tomaras.

While the WSP doesn't automatically disqualify anyone who's unlawfully used prescription drugs, Tomaras says anything that's classifiable as an abuse of drugs is enough to get an applicant booted. For example, if your mom gave you an unprescribed medication as a kid, or a couple Tylenol 3's for a toothache, Tomaras says the WSP may look the other way. But if the drug use was an obvious abuse - like popping adderal in college to stay up and study, or getting loaded on vicodin and Coors Light and watching pay-per-view UFC -- that's going to be a big problem.

"We take a common sense approach," says Tomaras of deciding whether or not an applicant's past drug use disqualifies them. "We take a look at every single case and make a decision."

Is the problem of past prescription drug abuse disqualifying applicants a growing one for the WSP? While Tomaras says there hasn't necessarily been a definitive increase, he does say lately it "seems pretty prevalent."

"I'd attribute it to a lack of education in terms of prescription drugs," he says. "People don't think about [prescription drug abuse] the same way they think about marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine or other drugs."

With recruitment efforts in full force, and faced with a growing number of vacancies by attrition - currently Tomaras says 88 Troopers are eligible for retirement, and that number will grow to 92 by year's end, and to 216 by 2015 - the WSP has made an effort to get the word out about prescription drug abuse and the fact it will prevent you from getting a job on the force. But Tomaras makes clear that's not the agency's only concern.

"First off, it's a public safety message," he says of efforts to educate the masses about the dangers and possible negative ramifications of prescription drug abuse. "If you take someone else's medicine, it's a crime. We really want people to be safe."

"We're trying to get the best people possible to serve the people of the state of Washington," continues Tomaras of the WSP's recruitment efforts, which aren't being helped by nonchalant pill-popping. "We want people who foster the public's trust."

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