Drug Recognition and Impairment Research Meeting

Complete Meeting Materials

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August 24, 2015
Washington, D.C.

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Meeting Objectives

NIJ’s Office of Research and Evaluation, in partnership with its Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences (OIFS), held a meeting to review research on drug recognition and impairment. Concern about drug recognition and impairment has grown with diversion and illegal use of prescription drugs, changes in medical and other marijuana use legislation, and evolution of novel psychoactive substances (NPS or synthetic drugs). NIJ collaborated with two federal agencies that also support research in this area — the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The meeting’s objectives included disseminating information on current projects to practice experts, exchanging information with other agencies, and soliciting feedback that will inform federal plans for future research that are responsive to the field’s information and practice needs.

Meeting Agenda

The one-day meeting was designed to solicit feedback by means of presentations by NHTSA, NIJ, and NIDA followed by a roundtable discussion including state and local practitioners and federal experts. The broad scope of topics addressed many aspects of drug recognition and impairment practice: detection of illegal drugs including quantitation (purity) of drug seizures; forensic toxicology post-use; reliable measurement of drug impairment; investigative leads for case building; collection and submission of drug evidence for laboratory analysis; tools for drug detection in the field; expert witness/testimony; confirmation of toxicological and chemical analysis; and protocols for prosecution and court case management.

Research Presentations and Project Information

NHTSA presented information on projects supported by its Office of Behavioral Safety Research related to drugged driving. NIJ provided an overview of research projects supported by OIFS. NIDA presented information on intramural and extramural research related to drug testing and impairment. More detailed information on relevant research funded by each agency was made available through project descriptions.

Presentation and Practice Expert Roundtable Highlights

Participants were invited to identify and discuss concerns of primary importance in their jurisdictions and professional fields. In other words, what information, tools and protocols would best support their service objectives — in addition to projects currently supported by NIJ and other federal agencies? A roundtable guide was developed in advance to indicate the wide range of presentation and discussion topics including, but not limited to, drugs of interest, laboratory and field tests, prosecution and defense, pretrial and post-disposition monitoring, and available resources.

Download the roundtable guide.

The following are highlights from presentations including discussions between presenters, practice experts and federal meeting participants.

  • Reliable and timely drug intelligence and surveillance systems are needed across state, tribal and local jurisdictions to examine national and regional trends over time. Those could be enhanced by relevant incident details (e.g., packaging or paraphernalia). Basic testing and reporting, however, is not standard across jurisdictions. In their assessment of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which collects toxicology results from police-reported fatal crashes on public roadways, NHTSA found that inconsistencies limit inferences about drug-involved driving (e.g., impairment or crash causation). Aside from developing variables and definitions for standard reporting, issues include changes in drugs and analogs, and skilled manpower to collate and analyze the information collected. NIJ is funding a project to develop data mining tools that collect pharmaceutical mentions from poison control reports, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is funding a project to extract information on drug mentions from death certificates.
  • NIDA is applying advanced technology and high-resolution mass spectrometry to determine human metabolism of NPS for which this is unknown, to identify the best markers for these drugs in urine samples. Due to the high potency and therefore low doses of these compounds, NPS are detectable in blood and oral fluid for a short time, making detection of metabolites in urine necessary. It is critical for these markers to be available rapidly for laboratories around the world to tie adverse effects occurring following ingestion of these compounds to the appropriate novel psychoactive compound to educate the public about the dangers of drug intake. In addition, commercial reference manufacturers need to know which are the key standards to produce.
  • NIDA investigators conducted controlled drug administration studies to determine the onset, peak and duration of drug effects and the time course of drugs and metabolites in oral fluid. The results are a scientific database for interpreting individual oral fluid drug concentrations, and development of policies around oral fluid testing. These policies determine what analyte should be tested and an appropriate cutoff concentration for both onsite screening and laboratory confirmation tests. Additionally, NIDA is evaluating the advantages and limitations of new biological matrices and the performance and efficacy of new field testing technology. For example, NIDA evaluated cannabinoid and cocaine onsite tests for detecting these drugs in breath and sweat.
  • Scientists supported by NIJ are developing portable and inexpensive devices for rapid field detection of drug use from live individuals’ oral fluids. NHTSA supports the training of drug recognition experts to administer a series of physiological and psychophysical tests to identify observable signs and symptoms related to impairment across a variety of drugs. Prosecution, however, is constrained by delays in laboratory confirmation and by drug legislation that lags behind innovations in illegal drug production. Jury expectations for unambiguous drug identification and impairment indicators, evidence analysis, and expert witness testimony have increased. This makes it harder for prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges to manage cases efficiently; and until cases are disposed (whether by dismissal or conviction), referrals to diversion, treatment services and other alternatives to incarceration cannot be made. 
  • Motor vehicle laws reference per se blood alcohol concentrations associated with impairment. NIDA research, however, found that drug detection and impairment are affected by time between ingestion and testing, and drug use frequency. Using simulators under controlled conditions, NIDA also found that cannabis impacts cognitive abilities necessary to respond to driving demands, and established concentrations of ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinoid (THC) during driving that produced similar impairment as 0.05 and 0.08 percent alcohol. Furthermore, they established that peak THC concentrations were higher when low dose alcohol was present, and that alcohol concentrations peaked later when THC was present. NHTSA is working toward understanding the scope of drugged driving in the U.S.; investigating aspects of drug-related impairment that impact driving; improving drugged-driving data collection; and enhancing the prevention, detection and prosecution of drugged driving.  

Other research supported by federal agencies include the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP) Community Drug Early Warning System that conducts secondary drug analysis using new tests on urine specimens previously obtained and tested for a limited panel of drugs. In one study, 72 of the 100 specimens that were negative for routinely-tested drugs were positive for synthetic cannabinoids. The Kansas Highway Patrol, among other state and local jurisdictions, is also conducting relevant studies that should yield additional information on drug recognition and impairment.

Other Resources

NIJ

NHTSA

Read NHTSA’s Traffic Safety Facts Research Notes on:

NIDA

ONDCP

Government Accountability Office

NIST

Other

Contacts

Linda Truitt
Senior Social Science Analyst
Office of Research and Evaluation, National Institute of Justice
Email: Linda.Truitt@ojp.usdoj.gov

Alan Spanbauer
Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences, National Institute of Justic​e
Physical Scientist
Email:  Alan.Spanbauer@ojp.usdoj.gov

Participant List

Invited experts included state and local practitioners who routinely manage cases and supervise offenders associated with possession of controlled substances, driving under the influence, and other drug-related offenses in regions across the U.S.

Practitioners included: law enforcement (drug recognition experts, crime analysts); forensic laboratory scientists (forensic toxicologists, drug chemists); medical examiners; court practitioners (prosecutors, judges, defenders); and corrections officers (probation and parole). In addition to NHTSA, NIJ and NIDA, federal participants represented law enforcement, public health, and other agencies such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, CDC, and ONDCP.

Practice Experts

Felix Adatsi
Office of Forensic Toxicology Services
Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia
Washington, D.C. 20530

Hon. Robert Anchondo
County Criminal Court at Law
El Paso, TX 79901

Gary Bowen
Athens DUI/Drug Court
Athens-Clarke County Probation
Athens, GA 30601

Daniel Collins
Impaired Driving Programs
Department of Public Safety
Phoenix, AZ 85009

Steven Epstein
Barket, Marion, Epstein & Kearon, LLP
Garden City, NY 11530

Peter Gerstenzang
Gerstenzang, O’Hern, Sills & Gerstenzang
Albany, NY 12203

James Gill
Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
Farmington, CT 06032

Linda Jackson
Virginia Department of Forensic Science
Richmond, VA 23219

Mack Jenkins
San Diego County Probation Department
San Diego, CA 92123

Shane McDonough
Orange County District Attorney's Office
Newport Beach, CA 92660

Hon. Kerry Meyer
Hennepin County Courthouse
Minneapolis, MN 55487

Kurt Nolte
Office of the Medical Investigator
Albuquerque, NM 87131

Matthew Payne
Drug and Alcohol Evaluation Unit
Kansas Highway Patrol
Salina, KS 67401

Courtney Popp
Washington State Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor
King County Sheriff’s Office
Seattle, WA 98104

Don Shriver
Crime Laboratory
Denver Police Department
Denver, CO 80204

Nicholas Tiscione
Toxicology Unit
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office
West Palm Beach, FL 33406

Federal Staff and Observers

Amy Berning
Office of Behavioral Safety Research
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Washington, D.C. 20590

Michael Brown
Office of Impaired Driving and Occupant Protection
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Washington, D.C. 20590

Caroline Cash
Impaired Driving Division
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Washington, D.C. 20590

Heidi Coleman
Office of Behavioral Safety Research
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Washington, D.C. 20590

Steve Gust
National Institute on Drug Abuse
Bethesda, MD 20892

Holly Hedegaard
National Center for Health Statistics
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Hyattsville, MD 20782

Marilyn Huestis
Chemistry and Drug Metabolism Section
National Institute on Drug Abuse
Baltimore, MD 21224

Amy Jewett
Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Atlanta, GA 30341

Tara Kunkel
Fellow
Bureau of Justice Assistance
Washington, D.C. 20531

Gerald LaPorte
Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences
National Institute of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20531

John Marshall
Office of Safety Programs
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Washington, D.C. 20590

Krista Mizenko
Association Schools and Programs of Public Health Fellow
Office of Behavioral Safety Research
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Washington, D.C. 20590

Bill O’Leary
Enforcement and Justice Services Division
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Washington, D.C. 20590

Kenneth Robertson
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment
Substance and Mental Health Services Administration
Rockville, MD 20857

Nancy Rodriguez
National Institute of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20531

Frances Scott
Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences
National Institute of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20531

Sandy Sinclair
Occupant Protection Division
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Washington, D.C. 20590

Dereece Smither
Office of Behavioral Safety Research
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Washington, D.C. 20590

Alan Spanbauer
Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences
National Institute of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20531

Linda Truitt
Office of Research and Evaluation
National Institute of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20531

Kathryn Wochinger
Office of Behavioral Safety Research
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Washington, D.C. 20590

Terry Zobeck
Office of Budget and Research
Office of National Drug Control Policy
Washington, D.C. 20006

 

Date Modified: April 14, 2016