NFSTC@FIU aids in drug-impaired-driving investigations

Portable devices ​that test saliva for drugs have been developed and marketed ​for use by law enforcement without controlled evaluation – until now.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released a study with work performed by the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC@FIU) and Center for Forensic Science Research and Education, which evaluates the accuracy and reliability of five point-of-contact devices used to screen suspected intoxicated drivers for drugs.

Roadside devices that detect drugs in a person’s saliva are a noninvasive way for law enforcement officers to collect and analyze samples immediately after a suspect is pulled over. Compared to blood or urine testing, these field tests limit the potential for contamination.

The screening tools have the potential to help solve criminal justice and public health issues.

“These types of devices are increasing in popularity, but vary in applicability, quality and suitability for field use for impaired driving cases,” Kevin Lothridge, executive director of NFSTC@FIU and co-author of the study, said. “Because traffic crashes involving impaired drivers kill thousands of Americans each year, we felt it was important to fill the void and provide a science-based analysis of these screening tools.”

In addition to accuracy and reliability, the Evaluation of On-Site Oral Fluid Drug Screening Technology study evaluated portable drug-testing devices for performance to specifications, susceptibility to interference and resistance to environmental factors. The report also provided an objective set of testing criteria for future assessments of similar devices.

The five portable devices included in the study were selected based on their capacity to test for several drug categories including cannabinoids, opiates, cocaine/metabolite, methamphetamine/amphetamine and, in some cases, methadone or benzodiazepines. Testing and cutoff concentrations were based on two previous studies: the Roadside Testing Assessment (ROSITA) and Driving Under the Influence of Drugs, Alcohol and Medicines (DRUID).

It’s important to note these testing devices are presumptive screening tests. Confirmatory testing must be carried out using traditional methods.

The report can be downloaded from the United States Department of Transportation’s National Transportation Library.