Fine-tuning techniques for detecting ‘drugged’ driving

    A Montgomery County company is urging lawmakers to give police officers more tools to spot “drugged” driving.

    Bill Anderson, a forensic toxicologist with NMS Labs in Willow Grove, Pa., says the legalization of marijuana in some states — and expanded use of pain medicines nationwide — have draw more attention to the hazards of driving under the influence of drugs other than alcohol.

    “I think the biggest change is the awareness of this, not only in drugs of abuse but in prescription items as well,” Anderson said.

    If you are pulled over on the suspicion of driving while impaired, chances are police will send your blood sample to NMS Labs for testing.

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    Many police officers have a Breathalyzer at the ready to test a driver’s blood-alcohol level, but it’s less common for police to have a screening test for other drugs such as cocaine.

    Many states have trained troopers to recognize signs of drug intoxication. Anderson said police could identify more problem drivers if they used readily available roadside saliva drug tests.

    “It corroborates that observation that a stimulant might be involved,” Anderson said. “You can see immediately that you have a drug that is most likely present as opposed to a medical condition, for example.”

    In 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted a representative survey of weekend and nighttime drivers across the nation. About 16 percent of those drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter medications; 11 percent tested positive for illicit drugs.

    Last week, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania visited NMS Labs to tour the facility and discuss ways to prevent drugged driving.

    Some substance abuse experts argue that better identification of drugged drivers could help more people find their way to treatment programs — and improve traffic safety.

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