Pubdate: Fri, 23 Dec 2016
Source: Beacon Herald, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 Osprey Media Group Inc.
Author: Laura Cudworth
Page: A3


Police are testing new devices to identify drug-impaired

Whether or not the impending legalization of recreational marijuana
use will have an impact on drug-impaired driving remains to be seen.

However, the timing of a pilot project to detect drug impairment could
give police new resources as legislation legalizing recreational
cannabis is introduced in Parliament this spring.

The pilot project is being tested by OPP, including Perth County,
Toronto, Vancouver, Gatineau, Halifax, and Yellowknife police forces,
as well as North Battleford RCMP.

Police are testing two units that collect oral fluids. The Alere DDS2
website says the hand-held machine can detect up to six different
drugs from one oral fluid sample.

The Suretec DrugWipe claims reliability greater than 95 per cent, with
test results in eight minutes or less.

"These devices are designed to detect the presence and absence of
drugs through saliva," Perth County OPP Const. Mike Melnychuk said.

The devices have been available to officers only in the past week and
submitting to the test is strictly voluntary. When drivers stopped at
a RIDE program are asked if they will give a sample, they can refuse
without consequence.

"If they say yes, even if they have the presence of drugs, they won't
be charged because (the device) is not approved yet. We will arrange
for a ride and they'll be sent on their way," Melnychuk said.

While one of the devices may become the Breathalyzer of drug
impairment in future, specially trained officers are currently tasked
with determining if a driver is impaired by drugs.

In 2015, Perth County OPP didn't lay a single charge for drug impaired
driving. So far this year, they've laid six charges.

The numbers are growing provincewide too. In 2015, there were 199
drivers charged for drug impairment and, so far this year, there have
been 225.

"My best guess is it's to do with more education of the public and
police on the signs of impairment from both prescription and illicit
drugs," said Melnychuk.

When police stop a driver and smell alcohol, they have grounds to
conduct a roadside breath test. If they suspect impairment but there's
no odour, field sobriety test officers conduct roadside tests that may
prompt an arrest.

At the OPP detachment, a drug recognition evaluator conducts more
tests, which may include a physical co-ordination test. That officer
could also demand a blood, urine or saliva sample. If the arrested
driver refuses, criminal charges could be laid.

Six drug-impaired arrests is a relatively small number compared to the
number of drunk driving charges in Perth County. There were 50 charges
laid in 2015 and 51 so far this year.

A Health Canada commissioned research survey by Earnscliffe Strategy
Group found the perception among its focus groups is that driving
while under the influence of marijuana is less dangerous than driving
under the influence of alcohol.

"Whether a driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs, both driving
conditions are dangerous and threaten the safety of those with whom
they share the road. Any amount of alcohol or other drugs can impair
one's ability to drive," Melnychuk said.

With the holidays upon us, Melnychuk is urging residents to take a
cab, arrange a ride or stay overnight. Impaired driving is still the
number one cause of criminal death, he noted.

"If you suspect someone is going to drive impaired call 9-1-1 and
report it," he said.
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