Pubdate: Fri, 29 Jan 2016
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Orange County Register


A growing body of evidence demonstrates that the inexpensive field 
drug test kits that police use to test substances found on people are 
highly unreliable, resulting in arrests - and, sometimes, convictions 
- - of innocent people with harmless substances.

Last year, a Minnesota man spent more than two months in jail because 
a bag of vitamins in his car was determined to be amphetamines by a 
police field drug test. A Florida man pulled over for an expired tag 
in 2009 ended up spending three months in jail - losing his job, his 
apartment and his car, which the police auctioned off while he was 
incarcerated - after an officer said the mints the man was chewing 
tested positive for crack cocaine.

Both men were eventually exonerated by more sophisticated tests at 
state crime labs.

A 2009 study for the Marijuana Policy Project, "False Positives Equal 
False Justice," detailed numerous examples of candies, 
over-the-counter medicines, plants, spices and other harmless 
substances being mistaken for illegal drugs by police field drug tests.

"[O]f the 43 substances we tested, 70 percent of the time it gave a 
false positive. This is just outrageous," Adam Eidinger of Mintwood 
Media Collective said at a press conference revealing the study's 
findings at the time. "It's not just the marijuana test. It's every 
single test [that] will provide false positives."

A six-month investigation last year by Fox 13/TV in Tampa Bay, Fla., 
similarly cast doubt on the accuracy of these tests. "We watched as 
aspirin, cough medicine, coffee and spices like oregano - and even 
air - tested positive for illegal drugs," reporter Gloria Gomez said.

Among the long list of substances that produce false positives: 
Oregano, chocolate and loose-leaf tea regularly test positive for 
marijuana; powdered sugar, deodorant and Tylenol PM have indicated 
cocaine; Jolly Rancher candies have tested positive for crystal meth; 
motor oil has been mistaken for heroin and soap has tested positive 
for the "date rape drug" GHB.

However cheap and convenient field drug test kits may be for the 
police, it is not worth the prospect of forcing innocent people to 
spend thousands of dollars on bail and legal fees, languish in jail 
for weeks or months or risk losing their jobs, housing and 
reputations. It is also not worth the expensive lawsuits state and 
local governments face for false arrests based on the "evidence" they 
provide. Law enforcement agencies should eliminate their use 
immediately to prevent further injustices and needless expenses.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom