IT was the waiting for the results that had me getting hot under the collar, as I stood in Bandon Garda Station with Sgt Roisín O’Dea.
I had just undergone a drugs test, similar to the roadside drugs testing that came in to force across the country last April.
And that was despite knowing I was completely drug-free.
Using the hand-held device known as the Drager Drug Test 5000 (‘Drager 5000’) I had to submit a sample of saliva, which proved difficult as I wasn’t salivating enough on the stick so that the machine could read it.
That made me feel even more nervous and had me picturing exactly how a driver would feel if they had to undergo this test at the side of the road.
The Drager 5000 can analyse a saliva sample to detect the presence of four different type of drugs – opiates, cocaine, benzodiazepines and cannabis.
After eventually providing a sample of saliva that was sufficient, Sgt O’Dea put the stick into the Drager 5000 and then I waited.
In fact, it was the longest wait ever. While the results came back fairly fast for opiates, cocaine and benzodiazepines, which all proved negative, cannabis was a different story – and it took at least 10 minutes before I finally got the all-clear.
While driving under the influence of drugs has been an offence since 1961, the introduction of roadside drug testing last year with the Drager 5000 has made it harder for drivers under the influence of drugs to escape detection. Gardaí currently have four of these mobile hand-held devices in the Cork West Division that can be carried in patrol cars and they hope to acquire two more in the future.
Chief Supt Con Cadogan said quite a few drivers have been caught drug-driving since it became fully operational in his division last August, after gardaí received training in the operation of it.
‘We’ve had about 10 drivers caught so far and detections are on the increase. We’re only now getting up to speed with the technology to detect drug driving and the message is out there that those who drive and take drugs will be caught,’ said Chief Supt Cadogan.
Sgt O’Dea, along with two of her colleagues, is responsible for training fellow officers in the use of the Drager 5000.
‘If there is an MIT (Mandatory Intoxicant Test) checkpoint, a member of the gardaí doesn’t have to have formed an opinion, but they can require a sample of oral fluid by a driver.
‘If they see someone driving and suspect they may be under the influence of intoxicants, they can pull them over and they can demand a breath sample for alcohol and they can also demand an oral fluid sample. And they can also use it at the scene of an accident.
‘All we do is slide the stick, which contains the driver’s saliva, int o the machine – and then we wait. It’s very straightforward and it’s used throughout the world. The first three drugs generally come back fairly fast but the THC – which is a chemical compound of cannabis – can take a little bit longer, which is a long time to wait at the side of the road,’ added Sgt O’Dea.
This oral fluid test is not used for evidential purposes, but as an indicator of the presence of drugs and prosecutions will be taken on the basis of the blood test conducted following an arrest.
Drivers should be reminded also that there is a penalty for not complying with a roadside drugs test and they could face a fine of up to €5,000 or six months in prison.