Identifying Drug Users without a Drug Test.
The drug testing industry has developed all kinds of tests to detect a drug user: hair tests, oral fluid tests, urine tests, and sweat tests – not to mention blood tests. But did you know that it is possible to identify an individual who is under the influence of drugs, as well as the type of drug, without testing the individual’s blood, urine, sweat, hair, or oral fluid? That, in fact, is what a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) is trained to do. You say you haven’t heard of DREs? That’s probably because DREs are utilized exclusively in law enforcement. We’ll give a brief overview of the Drug Recognition Expert program, and then consider if there are any aspects of this program that can be applied to drug testing arenas beyond law enforcement.
Origins of the DRE program
The origins of today’s DRE program come from work done by the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1970s to better identify drivers who were impaired, but who were not intoxicated by alcohol. The work resulted in a series of field sobriety tests and other observations that could reasonably identify that these impaired drivers were under the influence of drugs. Currently the program is coordinated by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) with support from the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). This umbrella program is called the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program (DEC).
What is the role of a DRE?
DREs are primarily utilized in DUI enforcement to identify drivers suspected of being impaired by prescription or illegal drugs. DREs can also be useful in community policing when an officer is uncertain if an individual’s behavior is due to drugs or a medical or mental health disorder.
How does a DRE determine if an individual is impaired by drugs?
DREs follow a 12 step protocol:
- Administer a breath alcohol test
- Interview the arresting officer
- Check subject’s pulse three times during the evaluation
- Measure subject’s blood pressure
- Take subject’s temperature
- Perform a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test
- Perform five “divided attention” field sobriety tests such as finger to nose, one leg stand, and walk and turn.
- Check pupil size in three different levels of light
- Check for signs of ingestion
- Check for injection sites
- Check Muscle tone
- Interview the subject
The twelve step process typically takes about one hour to complete. The DRE then issues an opinion of whether the subject is under the influence of drugs, as well as the category of drugs causing the impairment. The subject is also given a drug test after the DRE’s opinion.
What are the categories of drugs that a DRE will look for?
The DRE’s opinion will name one or more of the following seven categories of drugs that can cause impairment.
- Depressants: Examples include barbiturates and tranquilizers such as Valium and Xanax.
- Stimulants: Examples include cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamine.
- Hallucinogens: Examples include LSD and MDMA (Ecstasy).
- Dissociative Anesthetics: Examples include PCP.
- Narcotic Analgesics: Examples include heroin, Darvon, and OxyContin.
- Inhalants: Examples include plastic cement, paint thinners, and hair sprays.
- Cannabis: This category is unique in that it contains only one drug, marijuana and the active ingredient of marijuana, THC.
What are some specifics that a DRE looks for that indicate THC impairment?
Increased pulse, elevated systolic blood pressure, dilated pupils, and failure to adequately perform the finger to nose test are all predictors of THC impairment.
Who may become a DRE?
DRE certification is only available to individuals who are credentialed law enforcement officers, employees of a public criminal justice agency involved in the enforcement of criminal or traffic safety laws, or involved in providing training services to officers of law enforcement agencies.
Is there applicability of the DRE program beyond law enforcement?
We believe that the feasibility of extending the DRE model to testing arenas beyond law enforcement depends on the unique circumstances of each arena. Because a DRE determines impairment, we can see the utility in using the DRE model in the workplace – particularly in post-accident testing – as well as in schools and any other arena in which assessing impairment from drugs is important. Drug testing programs targeted at detecting the use of illegal drugs – without regard to determining impairment at the time of a test – are not candidates for the DRE program model. Traditional drug testing is still the best model for detecting use of illegal drugs.