CCSA is working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to evaluate the implementation of the Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) program in Canada. This program was developed in Los Angeles during the 1970s in response to an apparent increase in drug-impaired driving and the problems associated with evaluating, arresting and prosecuting these drivers. The Los Angeles Police Department, with the assistance of scientists, physicians, and other experts, developed a rigorous program to train police officers to recognize and evaluate behaviours and physiological indicators associated with the use of both legal and illegal drugs. The DEC program provides trained police (referred to as Drug Recognition Experts or DREs) with the necessary skills to determine whether a suspect is impaired, whether the observed impairment is due to drugs, and which category (or categories) of drugs might be responsible. The results of the 12-step protocol, when corroborated by toxicological evidence of drug use, provide sufficient evidence to proceed with drug-impaired driving charges.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) coordinates the International Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) Program with support from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Its Technical Advisory Panel updates the DEC training curriculum with the latest scientific evidence as required. In Canada, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police oversees the program. Sgt. Evan Graham of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is the Canadian DEC Coordinator.
Since it was first implemented, the DEC program has grown substantially and is being used in at least 38 U.S. states. In Canada, the DEC protocol was first introduced in British Columbia in 1995. Since then, the program has been used by DRE officers in nine provinces, but only when suspects agree to take part. Recently, the Government of Canada passed amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada (Bill C-2) that provide police with the power to require a driver suspected of being under the influence of drugs to submit to a Standardized Field Sobriety Test, to participate in an evaluation of drug influence by an officer trained in the DEC program, and to provide a sample of blood, urine or oral fluid to determine the type and extent of drug(s) used. This new legislation came into effect on July 2, 2008.
Through its research and evaluation activities, CCSA is working to ensure the scientific rigour of the DEC program in Canada. One such project examined the accuracy with which police officers trained as Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) can identify the category of drug(s) ingested by persons believed to be impaired by a drug. 1,349 drug evaluations were examined to determine whether DRE opinions about the category of drug(s) matched the results of toxicological analysis in terms of accuracy. Measures of sensitivity, specificity, false alarm rate, and miss rate for all drug categories combined as well as for the most commonly found substances were calculated. An overall accuracy rate close to 95% provides a good deal of confidence in the use of the DEC procedure to detect persons impaired by substances other than alcohol. This study was published in the peer-reviewed publication Canadian Society of Forensic Science Journal. A link to the article is available on the right side of this page.
Researchers at CCSA also examined the the inter-rater reliability of DRE evaluations by having a group of certified DREs review each of 23 selected evaluation reports and render an opinion on the type of drug involved. Completed evaluations were received from 26 DRE officers yielding 598 (26 x 23) evaluations. Among the 23 DRE cases examined, the percent inter-rater agreement ranged from 30.8% to 100%. Pooled across cases, agreement was 71.2%. Further statistical tests found that the reliability of the DRE judgments is far better than chance and is indeed quite good. It is apparent that inter-rater agreement varied according to drug category.
There are over 100 pieces of information collected in the DRE protocol. From this information, a DRE makes a call about whether a suspect is impaired by drugs, and if so, what drug category. Researchers were interested in finding out if some pieces of information are better at predicting substance use than others. Data from 742 completed Canadian DEC evaluations of central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, narcotic analgesic and cannabis cases were analyzed using advanced statistical procedures. Results indicate that nine clinical indicators from the DEC evaluations significantly enhanced the prediction of drug category -- pulse rate, condition of the eyes and eyelids, lack of convergence, hippus, reaction to light, rebound dilation, systolic blood pressure, and the presence of injection sites. The findings from this study will facilitate the process of identifying the correct category of drug ingested by focusing on critical signs and symptoms of drug influence. This work will have direct and immediate relevance to the training of Drug Recognition Experts by providing the foundation for an innovative, statistically-based approach to drug classification decisions by DREs. This study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Traffic Injury Prevention. A link to the article is available on the right side of this page.
Understanding the patterns of drug-impaired driving is pivotal to the success of enforcement programs such as DRE. The BC Roadside Survey was an important piece of research conducted by CCSA that truly led to a new understanding of drug-impaired driving and that had implications for enforcement. Similarly, another research project examined the extent of drug use and alcohol use by fatally injured drivers in Canada. Between 2000 and 2006, 13,554 drivers were fatally injured. Of these, 82.4% were tested for alcohol and 43.4% were tested for drugs. Provincial differences in reporting rates exist, particularly for drugs. It was found that 32.7% of the sample tested positive for at least one psychoactive substance and 37.5% tested positive for alcohol. The most commonly detected drugs were central nervous system depressants, cannabis, central nervous system stimulants and narcotic analgesics. Among alcohol-positive cases, 82.2% of drivers had a Blood Alcohol Concentration over 80 mg%. Variables such as age of the driver, sex of the driver and time of the crash indicate that driving after drug use is different than driving after alcohol use. The present findings demonstrate that drug-impaired driving is almost as common as alcohol-impaired driving yet is a distinct issue. This has implications for law enforcement, public policy as well as prevention initiatives. New initiatives to address the drug impaired driving problem need to be considered.
Researchers at CCSA are not only concerned with the scientific integrity of the DRE program but also the practical implications of the expansion of the DRE program across Canada. How many DREs will be required in Canada to adequately meet the needs? How does it compare to the number of Breath Technicians? To answer these questions, a needs assessment was conducted. It is available by clicking on the link on the right of this page. Additionally, the Centre has surveyed trained DRE officers and instructors to obtain a comprehensive and balanced perspective on the application, implementation and operation of the DEC program in Canada.
This work has put the CCSA researchers on the leading edge of drug-impaired driving research. The Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals (CARSP) has recognized the unique contributions that CCSA is making to the field of road safety and awarded the distinguished Dr. Charles H. Miller Award for best technical paper in 2008 and 2009 for the papers The Accuracy and Reliability of Evaluations by Drug Recognition Experts in Canada and Drug and Alcohol Use Among Drivers: Findings from the British Columbia Roadside Survey 2008.