Results of oral drug screening pilot project expected soon

The Public Safety Canada pilot project tested two different roadside drug detection devices to help address the agency's concerns with drug-impaired driving

Public Safety Canada is expected to soon release the results of a recent pilot project testing the effectiveness of oral fluid drug screening devices for accurately detecting drug impairment.

The pilot program, which took place from December 2016 to March 2017, tested two different roadside drug detection devices, the Alere DDS 2 and the Securetec DrugWipe 5S. These are both “oral fluid collection devices,” with each product advertised as providing a result in five minutes. However, these devices only detect the presence of the drug, not the level of impairment. To determine impairment, the input of a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) is required.

Using “oral fluid screening devices” to test saliva for the presence of certain drugs, including cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, and opioids, Public Safety Canada says the results will help inform how police services counter drug-impaired driving in Canada. The agency has already said they are preparing for an expected an increase in enforcement against marijuana-impaired drivers after legalization.

The Criminal Code already authorizes a peace officer to demand a standard field sobriety test. If the officer develops reasonable grounds to believe that an impaired driving offence has been committed, they can make a further demand for a drug recognition evaluation by a specially trained Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). New legislation to legalize cannabis includes many allowances for further discretion from Drug Recognition Experts to determine if someone is impaired.

Karine Martel, a spokesperson for Public Safety Canada, told Lift in March that results from the pilot project are expected “in the coming weeks,” and that roadside safety is a serious concern in light of increased drug-impaired driving incidents in Canada in recent years.

“The government is committed to punishing severely those who operate a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana. As such, road safety is a serious public safety concern, particularly because the number of drug-impaired driving incidents has been rising since 2009. Roadside drug testing is one of the tools that can help law enforcement officers assess impaired drivers and get them off the road.

Statistics Canada’s most recent figures, released in December 2016, state that while alcohol-impaired driving is down over the past several decades, drug-impaired driving is on the rise (Allen 2016). They also note that despite a decline in impaired driving rates over the past 30 years in Canada, impaired driving is still one of the most common criminal offences and is among the leading criminal causes of death in Canada. The report also notes that drug-impaired driving incidents were less likely to be cleared by charge than alcohol-impaired driving incidents. When heard by the courts, these cases also took longer to resolve and were less likely to result in a guilty finding.

In a related incident last September on Vancouver Island, a car was stopped for exceeding the speed limit in a school zone. While the officer noted a strong odour of cannabis coming from the vehicle, and the driver admitted to having recently consuming cannabis, a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) on the scene determined the driver was not impaired.

The DRE program is governed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and is primarily used in Canada and the United States. There are more than 8000 DREs worldwide.

The pilot project was used by select police services across the country, including Toronto Police Service, Vancouver Police Department, Ontario Provincial Police, Service de police de la Ville de Gatineau, Halifax Regional Police Service, RCMP North Battleford Detachment and RCMP Yellowknife Detachment. The agency notes Canadian standards for oral fluid devices still need to be established before a government procurement process for the device can be launched.

“Testing these new drug screening devices is an important step in our ongoing effort to enhance the enforcement of drug-impaired driving laws, reduce drug-impaired driving, and improve the safety and security of all Canadians,” said Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, in a press release last year.

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