Controversial Tech Detects Presence of Drugs In Drivers

Use of the devices in criminal trials is fairly new and controversial.

New technology purchased by the San Diego Police Department to detect the presence of drugs including marijuana in drivers was used during a fatal hit-and-run investigation Saturday in Paradise Hills.

The Drager 5000 is a device that detects cannabis, cocaine, methadone, methamphetamine, prescription drugs and other controlled substances in drivers.

On Saturday night, a Paradise Hills couple was on their evening stroll a few yards from their home when a driver, who was allegedly high on drugs plowed up onto the sidewalk and ended the 67-year-old man’s life.

He also seriously injured a 55-year-old woman. Police say it’s unclear whether the woman will survive.

Neighbors tried to pull the driver’s Dodge truck off the injured man as the driver tried to run away but Good Samaritans chased him down until San Diego police arrived.


SDPD Officer John Perdue says the machine uses a swab sample from the mouth, which is put into the device and evaluated over the course of 8 minutes.

Police have been using the Drager 5000 at DUI checkpoints for about 10 months, but criminal defense attorney Vik Monder says the use of the devices in criminal trials is fairly new and controversial.

“It will not be able to tell the amount of the controlled substance and what that controlled substance is doing to that individual at the time of driving, so that’s going to be the real big issue for the prosecution,” Monder said.

Perdue thinks if prosecutions are successful the program could be expanded.

“I have a pending case right now coming up this month where I use this (Drager) on a traffic stop, so we’ll see how that one turns out,” he said.

Monder said one of the bigger legal issues is there is no legal limit on the amount of marijuana one can have in their system and drive. Perdue said the device does not quantify the level of a controlled substance that is in the system, but just whether or not one of the seven substance categories are present.

It prints out what looks like a receipt with different classes of drugs and says, for example, Methamphetamine: Present. Cocaine: Negative. THC: Present.

Police said after they use the Drager 5000 to arrest someone, that person is taken to the station to take a blood test as well.

Critics of the technology have expressed concern that THC remains in your system for up to 30 days so there’s no way to tell if someone is under the influence of the drug during a crash.

Also civil rights advocates question whether police are going to retain the saliva samples or DNA for any other investigative purposes.

SDPD previously provided its policy on operating the device when it announced the purchases. That policy showed officers would be discarding saliva samples after receiving results.

The San Diego Police Department Foundation purchased three Drager 5000s, which cost about $5,000 each. The equipment was purchased in anticipation of a possible increase in marijuana-related crashes with California's passage of legal recreational marijuana.

The Traffic Division said the investigation into the crash in Paradise Hills is ongoing and have not yet provided the names of the victims or the suspect.

SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman announced the donation of two devices that can help identify what narcotics are in the systems of impaired drivers.
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