KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Toxicologist Bridget Lorenz Lemberg held in her hand the newest way to test drivers for drugs: a thumb-sized cotton swab. She said Michigan State Police in select counties are already carrying it with them while out on patrol as part of a pilot program. She and her team at Forensic Fluids Laboratories announced Thursday they've jumped on board to help with the program.
“If you talk a lot and you have a lot of saliva this takes about 30 seconds to 45 seconds,” said Lemberg with the swab in her mouth demonstrating how it works. “You can see it starting to get wet.”
Once it’s completely wet the tip turns blue she said. The trooper then puts the swab in a clear tube, fills out the necessary paperwork and sends it to their lab located on Parsons Street. The lab, which is the country's on laboratory for oral fluid drug testing, receives the package within 24 hours.
“When we get it in the lab, what we do is we use to cut them open,” said Lemberg holding the package in her hand, still demonstrating the process. “We check it to make sure it’s sealed and hasn’t been tampered with.”
The tubes are then put into instruments called Mass Specs or Spectrums, she said, where each once is immediately tested for drugs. The specs can detects over 130 drugs including cocaine, opiates and marijuana.
“This tells you what's in somebody’s bloodstream,” said Lemberg. “You don’t have to get stuck with a needle and you don’t have to take off all your clothes to pee in a cup which doesn’t tell you what's in your bloodstream.”
She said once the results are done they ship it back to police that same day. Other states have already started using the cotton swabs for roadside testing: Wisconsin, Vermont, Oklahoma to name a few. Lemberg considered it to be a valuable tool that could soon become the standard in Michigan.
“They do a blood test so I think they want to compare it and equivocate it to a blood level,” said Lemberg about what police currently do. “I think they want to replace a blood test with this.”