Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Understanding New York DWI Mandatory Alcohol Evaluations: Part I

In November 2006 the New York State legislature stated that ALL alcohol evaluations and screenings 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 fairly easy to navigate.

Legally you must have a "screening" for alcohol abuse/dependency within 30 days of your initial appearance if you had a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of .12 or higher on your chemical breath test. A screening is merely a written test, it could even be a true/false test.

The next step up in the process so to speak is an "evaluation" for alcohol abuse/dependency within 30 days of the initial appearance if you had a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of .15 or higher on your chemical breath test. Some evaluators take one long session to perform an evaluation, while some could take up to four sessions to make an evaluation. Cost of these sessions runs about $80 to $90 per session. So one long eval might cost around $175 or four might cost up to $400. An evaluation is an "interview" with a counselor, and could (may or may not depending upon the evaluator) include a urine screen (NOTE: urine tests check for specific drugs while urine screens are general) for drugs. It is also common for the counselor to obtain "collaterals" from you. A collateral is contact information about people who know you and have seen your drinking. 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 your truthfulness and/or sobriety.

The next step for the evaluator is to determine whether you are an alcohol/drug abuser and have an abuse diagnosis or you are chemical (alcohol/drug) dependent. This is a critical determination, and should never be taken lightly by anyone.

My problem (I have a great many issues with the process) with these evaluations is that they can be highly subjective. The evaluators opinions carry a lot of weight for the Court as well as the prosecutor and under the circumstances of an interview or interviews they (the evaluators) may not get the full ie. complete picture. I had one client who went to an evaluation and the evaluator decided on a year's worth of treatment for dependency because the client stated he drank more than 5 drinks at one time. BTW 5 drinks for a man or 4 drinks for a woman at one time is classified as a binge drinker. BINGE is BAD in the world of evals. Imagine if you will a year's worth of 2 to 3 times a week standing up and saying, "hello, my name is Bob and I'm an alcoholic," and you may begin to see the grim picture if you are truly a person without a problem. These sessions would be costly in terms of time and money but more than that unjust in my opinion.

In my next blog I'll discuss the differences between how counselors make an abuse diagnosis versus a dependency diagnosis in more detail.