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Here's how weather could affect drug test results in Canada

Leeanna McLean
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, June 7, 2017, 8:23 PM - There are new tools for law enforcement to detect drug-impaired drivers, and while most reviews from police who tested the technology were positive, a report released by Public Safety Canada explains there were some weather-related issues with the devices.

Drivers are currently tested for impairment by Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) and Standard Field Sobriety Testing (SFST), however, in this trial two oral fluid drug screening devices were used: the Securetec DrugRead and Alere DDS-2, according to a Public Safety Canada press release.

Over 50 officers from police departments in Vancouver, Toronto, Halifax, Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police and RCMP in Yellowknife and North Battleford were involved in the pilot project. Over 1,140 saliva samples were collected between December 2016 and March 2017.

The oral fluid screening devices are able to detect the recent presence of several drugs including, THC from cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamines, opioids, benzodiazepines and amphetamines, the release states.

In 92 per cent of the samples taken, officers reported they were "comfortable" or "very comfortable" using the devices at roadside, according to the study. Meanwhile, about 67 per cent of officers trained with the devices reported that they were "very easy" to use. 

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Alere DDS-2 -- CBC

"Drug impaired driving is a series problem and giving law enforcement more tools to detect and deter drug-impaired driving will better protect our communities," said Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. "I am pleased the pilot project demonstrates this technology works in our unique Canadian environment."

Testing occurred under a variety of weather scenarios including, clear, snowy and rainy conditions, with temperatures ranging from minus 50oC to 26oC.

The report states that while the devices worked in all weather conditions, some issues emerged when they were used in extreme cold temperatures. Tests conducted outside the manufacturer's suggested temperature operating range were more likely to produce drug-positive results, the study notes.

Over 730 tests (64 per cent) occurred outside of the suggested operating temperatures and 80 per cent of all positive results were produced outside the suggested range.

"At present, it is unknown whether this finding is attributable to technical or procedural issues," the report highlights. "Consequently, further research on the reliability of devices used outside of standard operating temperatures is merited."

In total, officers only noted temperature-related difficulties causing a malfunction in 1.2 per cent of all samples collected. The report notes how one officer had to blast the heat from his car vents because it was too cold for the device to operate.

A positive drug test came back from 15 per cent of all volunteers who participated in the pilot project, with cannabis the most common drug found at 61 per cent, followed by methamphetamines and amphetamines at 23 per cent each.

However, the report says, "it is important to note that presence of a drug in the oral fluid does not imply impairment."

Mothers Against Drunk Driving CEO Andrew Murie told CBC that the device doesn't need to show how much the driver has taken.

"That's not what this is really all about," he told the news agency. "That's a screener. It doesn't need to reveal an amount. It just needs to say that recently a driver has used one of the drugs they are testing for and tests confirm they are positive for that."

If the device gives a positive reading, officers have the power to take a motorist under the influence to a police station for a blood test to obtain a more accurate result.

SOURCE: Public Safety Canada | Report | CBC

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