Drugged driving is becoming an all too common occurrence on Indiana roads. A new screening device used by state, county and some local police found up to 50% of the people who submit to a drug screening after being pulled over turned up positive for a drug, mostly THC.
Russ Keller who works for the Crawfordsville Police Department, sees it all the time on patrol.
“Crawfordsville is only 34 miles from the Illinois state line,” says officer Keller. “So I would believe, people from Indiana are going to Illinois and using marijuana and then coming back to Indiana.”
There is data to back up officer Keller’s suspicion. According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute there were fewer drivers on the road in 2020 because of the pandemic. But, there were more submissions to the state toxicology lab, which tests a person’s blood for drugs. In fact, submissions to the lab jumped by 7% in 2020.
Now there is an easier test to determine if a driver is drugged. It’s a new screening tool, called SoToxa.
“The samples we sent to the toxicology lab for analysis, 52% of those tested positive for cannabis that went in,” says Devon Mcdonald, the executive director of the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute. “When we looked at SoToxa, we’re right at 51% positive rate.”
In other words, the SoToxa test using oral fluids got the same numbers as the gold standard, blood tests submitted to a lab.
SoToxa, made by Abbott Labs, is easy to use in the field. The officer swabs the inside of the driver’s mouth, inserts the swab into a cartridge and test results come back in about 5 minutes.
SoToxa is not designed to measure how high or impaired a driver might be and the results can’t be used in a court of law.
Drivers can refuse to take the sotoxa screen. But officers can still rely on the blood test.
“If they refuse to take the SoToxa,” says officer Keller, “or a preliminary breath test, I read them their implied consent. I ask if they want a certified test and if they refuse that, I take them into custody and get a search warrant and go do a blood draw.”
Evidence from blood tests can be used in court.
More and more officers in Indiana are being trained to use SoToxa in the field. With numbers coming back in the 50% range, they will be put to use.
Most recently the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute placed 100 SoToxa screening devices in Lake County in the northwestern part of the state.
There are 160 tests all total in the state. More than 800 screening tests have been performed since the devices were placed in the field.
Over 50% have come back positive for a drug… mostly often, THC.