Skeptics question accuracy of Michigan road-side drug tests

Posted at 3:00 PM, Nov 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-27 15:00:21-05

NILES, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State Police officers are conducting roadside saliva tests on suspected drug-impaired motorists as part of a program spurring questions about the tests’ accuracy.

State Police Special First Lt. Jim Flegel told the South Bend Tribune that the program uses a portable saliva-testing device that can tell officers if there are certain drugs in a driver’s system, such as marijuana or opiates. The program will test the accuracy and reliability of the Alere DDS2 device, which is meant to assess the presence of drugs in about five minutes.

Law enforcement and academic experts say settling on such a test is complicated because drugs affect everyone differently and there is wide variation in the potency of pot and other drugs and the way they are consumed. As a result, there is no consensus on what level amounts to impairment.

Michigan Medical Marijuana Association president Michael Komorn said he’s concerned about the test’s accuracy and the program’s experimental nature. Komorn said the saliva tests may have a high error rate.

“Nobody should be compelled to take this test until we’ve got some confirmation that it is an accurate test,” Komorn said. “That’s basic fundamental liberty and freedom, that government shouldn’t be able to subject individuals to tests.”

The $150,000 program is called the Preliminary Oral Fluid Analysis. It aims to combat an increase in fatal crashes caused by drug-impaired drivers, Flegel said. Officers must have a reason to suspect impairment before testing a driver, he said. Officers have undergone a two-week training course and must follow a 12-step analysis to assess potential drug impairment.

The state saw a more than 30 percent increase in fatal crashes from 2015 to 2016. There were almost 240 fatal crashes in 2016, compared to almost 180 crashes the previous year.

The program is currently being used in five Michigan counties: Berrien, Delta, Kent, St. Clair and Washtenaw.

Police will report to the Legislature in a year about the program’s accuracy and the number of arrests. The program could be rolled out to more areas if it’s found to be effective, Flegel said.