Controversial Michigan roadside drug testing kicks off statewide this week

During a year long pilot program, the results of several the roadside saliva drug tests conflicted with blood test results.

Michigan State Police

Law enforcement officers across the state of Michigan will be able to conduct roadside drug testing on drivers, starting this week — in spite of the the fact that the results of the roadside saliva tests have not always aligned with the results from later blood tests.

On October 1, a roadside drug testing pilot program that started in 5 Michigan counties in 2017 officially expanded statewide, meaning that law enforcement officers throughout the state may now collect and test a driver’s saliva for drugs using a mouth swab.

From a news release form the Michigan State Police: “Under the pilot program, a DRE (drug recognition expert) may require a person to submit to a preliminary oral fluid analysis to detect the presence of a controlled substance in the person’s body if they suspect the driver is impaired by drugs. The preliminary oral fluid analysis will be conducted by a DRE on the person’s oral fluid, obtained by mouth swab, and will be administered along with the drug recognition 12-step evaluation currently used by DREs.”

The roadside tests are intended to detect the presence of amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cannabis (delta 9 THC), cocaine, methamphetamines, and opiates.

During the initial pilot program launched in November 2017, a large percentage of the roadside saliva tests detected the presence of drugs that could not be confirmed by later blood test results.

Throughout the year long pilot program, troopers administered 92 saliva tests and found that 83 drivers tested postive for drugs.

MSP reported that after comparing the roadside test to blood tests, there were several instances when the saliva test showed the presence of drugs that were not found in the blood test — six times for amphetamines, twice for cocaine, once for methamphetamine, and eleven times for THC. The study pointed to delays in collection of the blood samples for some of the discrepancies between the saliva testing and blood testing results.

MSP says that “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.”

Authorities believe that by expanding the pilot program statewide, they’ll be able to to collect more data to better determine whether roadside drug testing is effective.

“This additional, statewide data will help to determine the usefulness of this tool for law enforcement, as we work to get drug-impaired drivers off Michigan’s roads,” said Lt. Col. Richard Arnold, commander of MSP’s Field Operations Bureau. “Roadside oral fluid testing continues to show promise and by expanding this pilot, we’ll have a larger body of results by which to determine the tool’s effectiveness.”

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