Roadside drug testing pilot program results fall below ‘gold standard’

April 5, 2021

Greg Grisolano

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The results of Michigan’s yearlong, statewide pilot program to use oral test kits for roadside drug tests are in, and while law enforcement say the tests are accurate for preliminary purposes, opponents argue the results prove the tests aren’t nearly as accurate as the “gold standard” of blood testing.

Nearly one in four positive oral tests were later overturned by blood testing, according to a report the Michigan State Police presented to lawmakers in January.

Of the 934 positive tests that were recorded between Oct. 1, 2019, and Sept. 30, 2020, 222 were later overturned by blood tests, nearly 24%.

The report claims one reason for the disparity could be the length of time that elapsed between when a driver was tested orally at the roadside versus having a blood draw hours later.

“Oral fluid testing does not equal the ‘gold standard’ (blood testing) but has been found to be accurate for purposes of preliminary roadside testing,” the report concludes.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has long been opposed to roadside drug testing programs and to attempts to use test methods other than blood or urine, citing concerns over accuracy and privacy.

OOIDA spoke out against the pilot program in 2016, writing in a letter to legislators that a false-positive would literally end the career of a professional driver. The results of the pilot program “shouldn’t be a surprise” to Michigan lawmakers, said OOIDA’s Mike Matousek.

“Our concerns – and the concerns of numerous others – were largely ignored as this effort was making its way through Lansing about five-six years ago,” said Matousek, OOIDA’s manager of government affairs. “I’d like to say they’ve learned something from it, but they probably haven’t.”

Pilot program’s origins

The program allows “drug recognition experts” to give roadside saliva tests to any drivers suspected of being under the influence of such drugs as marijuana, cocaine and heroin. The pilot program uses a mouth swab to obtain the saliva. According to the Michigan State Police, a drug training expert “receives additional, highly specialized training to assist in identifying drivers under the influence of drugs other than, or in addition to, alcohol.”

Initially limited to just five counties, the pilot program went statewide in October 2019 with $626,000 in funding.

While the program is geared toward all vehicles, it was inspired by a 2013 crash, when a truck driver ran a red light and struck a vehicle, resulting in the death of two people. The truck driver, Harley Davidson Durocher, was found guilty of six felonies, including two counts of operating a motor vehicle with the presence of a controlled substance (marijuana). LL

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Greg Grisolano joined Land Line in 2013. He was formerly a reporter for the Joplin Globe. He brings business writing and photography skills to Land Line, and has a passion for finding and telling stories about the people who make up the trucking industry.