A pilot program in Michigan may provide police with a new tool in combatting drugged driving.
Michigan State Police are using a swab test to determine immediately if six different categories of drugs are present in a suspect’s system.
The yearlong test began in November and was launched after police noted a 32 percent increase in drug-related DUI fatalities in 2016 – to 236 from 179. A couple also was killed in a collision with a logging truck driver in northern Michigan who had smoked marijuana.
“We believe this pilot program will end up being a huge trend in combatting DUI,’’ said Special First Lt. Jim Flegel.
Drug recognition officers use the same procedures as before the trial project started – stopping drivers based upon signs of inebriation, conducting a field sobriety test and administering a drug-recognition exam when drug use is suspected.
What’s new and different is that they have a portable case with swabs and a machine that shows in five minutes if a driver is positive for drugs and also isolates the categories.
The officer inserts the swab into the Alere DDS2 oral fluids test instrument and prints out the results during the roadside test.
The machine tests whether amphetamine, benzodiazepines, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines or opiates are present in the suspect’s system.
Flegel said the new swab test is considered preliminary, one of several factors that build probable cause to determine whether a motorist has committed the crime of drunk driving. The results of a subsequent blood test are used in prosecuting the defendant.
If the pilot is successful, Flegel views the oral-fluids swab test as especially helpful in the future for officers who are not drug recognition experts. Only 130 of Michigan’s 18,500 officers statewide have the special drug recognition training.
Arizona, in contrast, has 400-500 drug recognition experts, but, still, thousands more do not have the special training. DRE officers tend to be assigned to traffic units.
Michigan authorities eventually will tabulate the results and issue a report that is expected to play a large role in whether the program is expanded nationwide.