Lake County Sheriff's Office to participate in roadside drug testing program

LAKE COUNTY — The Lake County Sheriff's Office is one of many local departments taking part in a new roadside drug testing program organized by the Michigan State Police.

According to a press release from the MSP, the Oral Fluid Roadside Analysis Pilot Program began Tuesday, Oct. 1, and includes participation from drug recognition experts (DREs) in many Michigan counties.

Under the pilot program, a DRE 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."

In addition to obtaining oral fluids with a mouth swab, a DRE will complete the drug recognition 12-step evaluation currently used by DREs. This evaluation includes components such as an eye examination, an interview by the DRE, checking vital signs and a breath alcohol test, among others.

Lake County Sheriff Rich Martin said DREs are trained in advanced techniques for detecting which types of drugs a person is using at a certain time. He added there currently is one trained DRE working in the county.

"It's kind of a rare training to have someone go through, so we are very fortunate," Martin said.

The oral fluid test instrument tests for the presence of amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cannabis (delta 9 THC), cocaine, methamphetamines and opiates.

According to the press release, refusal to submit to a preliminary oral fluid analysis by a police officer is a civil infraction.

This pilot program is being initiated following a previous one-year Oral Fluid Roadside Analysis Pilot program by the MSP, which concluded in Nov. 2018, in five counties, including Berrien, Delta, Kent, St. Clair and Washtenaw.

This initial pilot program provided data on the performance of the oral fluid test instrument in addition to the observations of driver behavior by law enforcement and standardized field sobriety tests. However, the MSP said the sample size gathered during this first program was too small to draw any definitive conclusions.

In Feb. 2019, the Oral Fluid Roadside Analysis Pilot Program Committee recommended expanding the program for an additional year to include all DREs in the state to allow additional police departments to participate and to increase the sample size.

"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 the MSP's Field Operations Bureau, in a press release. "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."

Martin said being part of the pilot program also will be a positive for the county because it will mean additional training and experience for deputies.

"It's always a benefit to have more training," he said. "The more we can do to enforce the laws, the better."