A drugged driver killed my parents. Oral fluid roadside testing will save lives and save more families from that pain.
By Brian Swift
In 2013, a logging truck barreled through a red light and slammed into my parents’ car, killing my father instantly. My sister and I waited in anguish as my mother struggled to stay alive; she died three days later. This kind of selfish act is the worst kind of violence because somebody else chooses your fate for you. If losing my parents wasn’t enough, most victims like me battle with the prosecutor’s office just to get a trial. In our case, the driver would eventually be convicted and sentenced to a mere five years for his crimes. The suffering inflicted on my family can never be undone – cutting short my parents’ lives and others like them has to STOP!
The driver that killed my parents had THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in his system. Tragically, the number of people hitting the road high on drugs — from marijuana and cocaine to heroin and prescription medicine — is increasing. We have the technology to reduce impaired driving and give law enforcement the tools they need to get these people off our roads.
Following the death of my parents, my sister Patti and I advocated for change in Michigan and the legislators listened. More importantly, they acted. Public Act 242 and 243 of 2016, otherwise known as the Barbara J. and Thomas J. Swift Law, initiated an oral fluid drug testing pilot in five Michigan counties in November of 2018. In February of 2019, officials released the results of the five-county pilot to the legislature as required by the law. They were remarkable. Eighty-eight of the 92 results collected at the roadside were later confirmed by an independent laboratory or blood test. Based on the success of the initial program, it was expanded into a statewide effort in October 2019.
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 driver’s body if the DRE suspects the driver is impaired by drugs. Refusal to submit to a preliminary oral fluid analysis upon a lawful demand of a police officer is a civil infraction. The device that MSP chose for the pilot is the SoToxa Mobile Test System made by Abbott. This handheld device can test for six classes of drugs in oral fluid including THC (cannabis), cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, opiates, and benzodiazepines. SoToxa was chosen for Michigan’s pilot program because it is portable (necessary for roadside use), accurate, easy to use, and produces rapid test results.
Not surprisingly, cannabis was found to be the most prevalent drug found by the roadside testing program which aligns with national fatality data and roadside surveys. While oral fluid testing has been piloted numerous times in multiple states, the enactment of this law was groundbreaking because it was the first time that a state legislature mandated and funded a pilot. It is now considered a model that other states should replicate. The oral fluid swab does not substitute the 12-step drug evaluation that DREs are trained to perform on suspected drugged drivers. Oral fluid screening is a tool that can enhance current practice, not replace it.
More than 50 law enforcement agencies and over 100 DREs from around Michigan are actively participating in the pilot which is set to conclude this fall. The results of the second pilot will be reported by the end of 2020.
Our next step is to work with a coalition of committed stakeholders to make Michigan’s law and oral fluid program permanent in all 83 counties and expand the use of this technology to all law enforcement agencies. It is my hope that every state in the country will recognize the tremendous life-saving potential of roadside oral fluid testing. I am committed to educating and working with policymakers to make this a reality.
Many special interest groups will use fear tactics to condemn these devices just as they did with the breathalyzer. Rest assured, law enforcement is our front line and protects us from drivers who have no regard for anybody but themselves and create carnage on our roads. With your help, we can reduce the number of injuries and fatalities caused by these irresponsible drivers.