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Scientific Testing Methods and Procedures For DWI Drug Testing

Interviewer: What types of testing do the laboratories have to use to find the presence of drugs? Do these tests look for certain things or look for everything?

Leckerman: Well, that’s a great question. The laboratory has to come up with a specific method for identification. Method is a scientific term that is used by every laboratory. All laboratories have to either create their own method or use a method created by another laboratory. They identify specific drugs through the use of specific types of instruments and specific ways of running the instruments. An instrument is usually a device, such as gas chromatograph with mass spectrometer, or a liquid chromatograph with a mass spectrometer. Those are the two types of devices typically used to identify the presence of drugs. Now, if the laboratory hasn’t properly vetted the method that it will use, then an expert for the defense can be brought in to criticize the method used for identification. We can show that the laboratory may be incorrectly identifying certain compounds, as drugs of abuse.

Interviewer: Let’s say a test finds marijuana, cocaine, heroin, metabolites, and prescription drugs, do they need to have a specific method for each of the different substances when testing, or is one method is good for all the different substances they discovery in the blood?

Leckerman: The laboratory would have to have a specific method for the instrument that it’s using to find all of those drugs. A laboratory can develop a method for each individual drug and test a sample over and over again using each method but that would be a colossal waste of time and resources at the laboratory.  The methods are developed to identify a wide spectrum of drugs of abuse.

There are sometimes issues with the methods the laboratories use. There may be a drug of abuse that is new on the market and the laboratory hasn’t developed a proper method to identify. Marijuana and the metabolites from marijuana can be difficult to identify if the proper method isn’t utilized by a laboratory. For example, most laboratories do not have methods developed to identify newer, designer drugs like Spice or K2.

The larger, private laboratories in the country have been developing methods to identify drugs of abuse like Kratom, Spice and K2 over the last couple of years. Not every laboratory uses these methods and not every state laboratory has designed its own methods. That doesn’t mean that these laboratories can’t utilize the private laboratories’ methods to try to identify certain drugs of abuse. However, the New Jersey state laboratory has to verify that the method developed by the other laboratory also works in its laboratory on its particular device.

A method developed by one lab for one particular instrument doesn’t necessarily work in another lab with its instrument. That’s why the method has to first be tested in the second laboratory to determine if the method is working as it was designed to.

New Jersey DWI Info Guide

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