Drug testing program to expand

LANSING — The one-year pilot program for a roadside test that allows trained officers to screen a driver’s saliva for illegal drugs within minutes in five Michigan counties, including Delta County, will expand to include all counties in Michigan with drug recognition experts (DREs).

The results of the Michigan State Police year-long pilot program on the accuracy of roadside oral fluid tests were recently released after being presented to the state Legislature.

Michigan State Police Spl/F/Lt. James Flegel, the director of the pilot program, said the report on the program was presented to Legislature late in the afternoon on Feb. 5. The Legislature agreed to support the ongoing funding of the program to include additional counties in Michigan. There are currently 137 DREs in Michigan.

The one-year pilot program first began on Nov. 8, 2017, and concluded on Nov. 8, 2018. The program included Delta County, where a fatal accident was the catalyst for the pilot program, and four downstate counties –Berrien, Kent, St. Clair, and Washtenaw. The pilot program offered law enforcement drugged driving results within minutes via a mouth swab of a motorist’s saliva.

Flegel said the one-year pilot program has been a success because it provided valuable data on the testing equipment Abbott DDS2, the roadside analyzer that tests for six different drug categories.

“The oral fluid testing instrument shows great promise to the law enforcement community to help establish probable cause in dangerous drugged driving cases,” he said.

The Abbott DDS2 is capable of testing for amphetamine, benzodiazepines, cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine and opiates.

The pilot program results showed there were a total of 92 oral fluid roadside tests conducted. Of the 92 tests, 62 secondary voluntary oral fluid tests were collected using another roadside analyzer. As a result of the DRE observed driver behavior and standardized field sobriety tests, 89 drivers were arrested during the pilot program. Of those, positive oral fluid roadside test results were reported for 83 drivers.

Three of the 92 conducted tests were in Delta County.

Flegel said all three tests conducted in Delta County tested positive for drugs and resulted in the arrests of the drivers. The tests in Delta County tested positive for amphetamines, benzodiazepines and cannabis.

He explained the reason why there were only three tests in Delta County during the span of the year long program is because of the requirements placed on how the tests can be administered.

The saliva test could only be administered by trained DRE officers who are employed by state, county, township, and municipal police agencies. The DRE could only administer the test if they made the initial traffic stop or if there was an investigation of a crash. There were only three DRE officers in Delta County or near Delta County, one from Escanaba Public Safety, and one each from the Michigan State Police Gladstone and Iron Mountain Posts.

In the other counties participating in the pilot program there were seven DREs in Berrien County, eight DREs in Kent County, three DREs in St. Clair County and 10 DREs in Washtenaw county.

The pilot program became law in 2016 as a result of efforts of siblings Brian Swift of Texas and Patti Swift-Dringoli of Wisconsin. Their parents, Escanaba residents Barbara and Thomas Swift, both 73, were killed by a logging truck that failed to stop for a red light in Gladstone and struck the Swift’s car in 2013.

The semi driver was convicted of six felonies, including operating a vehicle with the presence of marijuana in his system. He was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison.

According to the MSP Criminal Justice Information Center, 98 people lost their lives in drug-impaired driving crashes in 2007. By 2017, drug-impaired traffic fatalities had increased by 151 percent to total 246 fatalities resulting from drug-impaired crashes in Michigan.

Flegel said the steady increase in drug related fatalities in traffic accidents is a reason why this program is so important.

The Michigan State Police are in the process of organizing the expansion of the pilot program.

Flegel said it will take several months to organize the program, purchase the equipment needed for the expansion and train DRE officers on the testing equipment.