A roadside drug testing pilot program is being expanded and will now be implemented statewide.
Michigan State Police conducted a one-year Oral Fluid Roadside Analysis Pilot Program in five counties – Berrien, Delta, Kent, St. Clair and Washtenaw. The program is said to be the result of a steady increase in fatal crashes involving drivers impaired by drugs over the past several years. A press release states “the initial pilot provided valuable data on the performance of the oral fluid test instrument when coupled with law enforcement observed driver behavior and standardized field sobriety tests, but the overall sample size was too small to draw any definitive conclusions on the tool’s usefulness for law enforcement”. That being said, the pilot program is now expanding for another year to allow more police departments to participate and increase the sample size. Under the program, a drug recognition expert or DRE can require a driver to submit to a preliminary oral fluid mouth swab test to determine if they are impaired by methamphetamines, benzodiazepines, cannabis (delta 9 THC), cocaine, methamphetamines and opiates. Results come back within a matter of minutes. 31 DRE’s were involved in the first phase that included state, local and county law enforcement. In this second phase, there will be over 100 DRE’s in nearly every county of the state. In Livingston County, the MSP Brighton Post and Hamburg Township Police Departments are participating while others in the vicinity include the Ann Arbor and Novi Police Departments.
Detective First Lieutenant Shannon Sims with the MSP Field Operations Bureau clarifies that an officer is not making the decision to arrest or not arrest solely based on the instrument test and will conduct a regular investigation. He says it’s just another tool to help officers identify what they’re dealing with when they have contact with the motoring public. If they do come across a driver impaired by some type of substance, Sims says then they have an instrument during investigations to give them a real time result to consider what type of action they need to take. He tells WHMI if an officer isn’t observing some type of bad driving or the person is not demonstrating that they are impaired, then there’s no reason for the test to be administered. Individuals are required to submit to the test if an officer requests it, but Sims stresses an officer won’t request it unless they have some type of suspicion the person is under the influence. He notes there would be more observations by an officer before a determination is made to administer an oral fluid test, similar to a PBT for drunk driving. He says if someone was being investigated for drinking and driving and the officer didn’t have a PBT, they would still conduct business the same way but just not have that tool available. Sims says there is no need to be alarmed about the testing as most people won’t be impacted at all and the general public will probably never encounter it outside of media broadcasts. He says the goal is to keep people safe so those taking prescription medications or under the influence of something should not be driving; stressing individuals cannot drive impaired – even if they have a prescription. Sims said it is important for people to know that if an oral roadside test doesn’t show a positive, there is still the possibility the person has it in their system – which the lab would pick up. He says the instrument is set to trigger at a certain cut-off amount but the labs have the ability to look further at smaller quantities so if a road side test comes back negative, they still send it to the lab.
Sims noted the tests have been reliable, the science is solid and there have been numerous studies. Under the pilot program, various tests are being done to validate the results. In addition to the roadside testing, Sims says officers take a second sample of oral fluid and put in a secure test tube that is mailed to an accredited lab completely independent of law enforcement for an independent analysis. Finally, he says a blood sample is collected that goes to the MSP lab so there are three tests to confirm the results across the board. After the pilot program concludes, Sims says data will be compiled and analyzed and a report will be issued. (JM)