For decades, police with any reason to suspect that someone was in possession of illegal drugs have used the results from a $2 roadside field test to confirm the presence of marijuana, opiates, and other illicit substances.
Ed McFadden from Lithonia, Georgia, was jailed after “pieces of a breath mint tested originally tested positive for crack.”
A deputy from Georgia’s Rockdale County sheriff’s department arrested Justin Mallory after some incense in his truck produced a false positive test result for methamphetamine. Mallory protested that he had “Never been involved in any type of drugs.” He had to spend a “harrowing” month in jail anyway.
With so much civil liberty on the line, you would think that any drug test results presented as legal evidence to justify a criminal charge of drug possession would need to be rock solid. But no:
“In fact, results from a two-year study reported by the National Press Club of Washington, DC found that as many as 70 percent of field tests for narcotics rendered false-positives.”
With so much civil liberty on the line, you would think that there is rigorous training on how to use a field drug test kit correctly. But no:
Georgia is representative of many other U.S. states:
“Every Georgia law enforcement officer gets trained in areas like firearms, CPR or working a traffic accident. But there’s no requirement they be able to master two skills every preschooler has to learn: know your colors. And follow directions.”
During the first several months of 2014, 15 people arrested for drug possession by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Floridas were found completely innocent after the state crime lab contradicted the roadside test results.
All field drug test kits on the market work the same way and have the same active ingredients. A small plastic bag contains one or two inner ampules that are filled with testing chemicals. The top of the bag opens so a sample can be placed inside. The bag is closed and shaken briefly to mix the chemicals sealed inside. A color change is matched against indicators for illegal substances which are printed on the side of the bag.
The problem is that these tests have a really, really high failure rate.
Fox 13 News has been conducting an ongoing multi-month investigation into field drug tests. Dr. Omar Bagasra, a top research scientist at Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina, is strongly opposed to law enforcement’s misuse of field drug tests:
“I think it’s totally unjust. It’s awful,” he told Fox News reporter Gloria Gomez.
Dr. Bagasra is no dabbler in this discipline. His laboratory is hailed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police for excellence in forensic science.
Dr. Cherilyn Haggen-Paey and forensic scientist Chris Addanki are members of Dr. Bagasra’s research team. They tested drug test kits purchased from the Safariland Group and Sirchie, the two web stores that are the main suppliers of all kinds of law enforcement products.
Dr. Haggen-Paey and Addanki judged the accuracy of Nark II, NIK, and NarcoPouch. The two lab workers got one after another false positive test result:
- Aspirin and oregano (a common kitchen herb thought to resemble marijuana) produced false positive test results.
- Shavings from a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar and coffee tested positive for marijuana.
- A sample of Mucinex (an over-the-counter cough medicine) tested positive for heroin and morphine.
But most astonishing – and disturbing – was watching a little field drug test bag react positively for marijuana by producing a chemical color change after putting NOTHING BUT AIR into the test pouch before breaking the ampules and shaking it.
The number of innocent people being jailed in Georgia alone is staggering. Victims of incorrect field drug tests report being treated like criminals as police presumed their guilt before their innocence.
The judges are going right along with this sinister agenda, allowing flawed evidence to sway courtroom decisions despite a multitude of reports raising the alarm bells over the extraordinarily high failure rate of these tests.
By one estimate, 16 percent of the more than two million Americans serving jail time were found guilty of a drug charge. “These numbers have drastically increased over the past three decades,” thanks to the (failed) War on Drugs.
Adding insult to injury, the industry concern is not over citizens’ rights but over the safety of the rights-violating police officer. Police departments across the nation are re-evaluating the widespread use of field drug tests, despite their high conviction rate, in order to keep the force straight:
“But some large law enforcement agencies have recently abandoned the routine tests out of concern that officers could be exposed to opioids that can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled. Even a minute amount of the most potent drugs, such as fentanyl, can cause violent illness or death.”
Dr. Bagasra maintains that all field drug tests are a waste of time and money because they are all inaccurate:
“Most of the time they are just false positives. I think that they are totally useless. I don’t think they should be used at all.”
Dr. Frederick Whitehurst worked for 16 years as a forensic scientist with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). For the past year, he has been looking into the accuracy of this common conviction practice:
“Those test kits are extremely dangerous. I have a doctorate in chemistry. I have no confidence at all in those test kits.”
Furthermore, Dr. Whitehurst believes that the manufacturers of field drug tests “are impinging on the freedom of people in this country…We are putting human beings in cages with those things.”
The Safariland Group defended its products to the bitter end, advising that “Field tests are presumptive in nature and should only be used after an officer’s identification of probable cause is present and should be followed by further confirmatory testing.”
Unfortunately, that isn’t happening and innocent people are going to jail for nothing. If you become the victim of a false positive field drug test, you would be well advised to seek legal counsel immediately and fight back to preserve your rights and civil liberties.