A Vancouver attorney has found that the only device approved for roadside drug tests in Canada is subject to frequently yielding false positive results. Kyla Lee, a lawyer with the firm Acumen Law, says that the Drager Drug Test 5000 had indicated the presence of drugs including cannabis, opiates, and cocaine after test subjects had used products legal and easily obtained in Canada. The Drager 5000 was approved to conduct roadside screenings for drug impairment in concert with the legalization of cannabis in Canada last year.
“We found there was a retention period of half an hour. It was still found in the mouth even though there were no lingering effects in the body,” she said.
Lee also found that people who had consumed common baked goods subsequently returned positive results for other controlled substances that could cause driving impairment.
“We had several individuals eat poppy seed loaf from Tim Hortons and poppy seed cake they made at home. All of those people tested positive in the saliva test for opiates, and later tested positive in subsequent urine tests,” Lee said.
False Positive Results Could Lead to Arrest
She noted that such false positive results could have significant consequences in an actual roadside screening by law enforcement.
“So if a police officer were to pull those people over and gave them a saliva test, they would be arrested,” Lee said.
Other test subjects who had used coca tea had positive results for cocaine returned by the Drager 5000. Coca tea is commonly available in Canada and is made from the same plant that is processed into cocaine.
“That’s so concerning because in our legal system we have a zero-tolerance threshold for cocaine,” Lee said. “Any detectable amount of cocaine in your system means you’re guilty of a criminal offense.”
“People who are wanting to try different kinds of tea are now at risk of being charged with impaired driving,” she added. “It’s another example of how the government really failed in approving this device.”
The Drager 5000 has also received other criticism, including complaints that the device does not function properly in cold weather. Although it is currently the only device approved for roadside drug screenings by the federal government, many law enforcement agencies including the Vancouver Police Department have declined to deploy the machines. A second device, the SoToxa system, has been recommended for approval by a government panel. Lee said that the Drager 5000 should either be improved or recalled.
“We need to put more effort in this country into finding a device that can tell the difference between something that’s impairing a person and something that’s merely present in their system,” she said.