LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - As many as nine million people may be on the road driving under the influence of illegal drugs. It's a growing problem for local law enforcement forced to recognize the signs without the benefit of breathalyzers that detect alcohol use.
Currently, the Louisville Metro Police Department is one of three departments in Kentucky using these drugged driving test kits. A response to the problem of drugged driving which is now spreading across the state.
The scenes drivers are used to seeing are DUI check points, where law enforcement officers check for drivers who are under the influence of alcohol. But times have changed and so are the tools police use to keep impaired drivers off the road.
"Drugs are a big problem," said Bill Bell, the executive director of the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety. "Drugged driving is a problem. And for some regions of the state, it's the biggest problem."
The Kentucky Office of Highway Safety is spending $75,000 on a pilot program to test kits that check for illegal drugs in a drivers system. Everything from heroin, to painkillers, marijuana and amphetamines can be detected.
Bell demonstrated how the testing kits work.
"You put it in the mouth," said Bell, pulling the swab out of the test kit. Bell said the officer then places the swab stick inside the suspect's mouth.
"And they have to set it in there for a while, and then when they are finished they put it in here, clamp it down, you push it down, and then it releases enough fluid to indicate what substance they are on," he said.
Police departments in Louisville, Paducah and Madisonville have all received grants to study the reliability of the kits, which are being tested in a handful of other states as well.
Blood tests are still given to people suspected of driving drugged and the results are compared to see if the field test kits are accurate. If, as expected, they are accurate, Bell said his office will push lawmakers in Frankfort to rewrite the statues, making it legal for officers in the field to use them as part of standard operating procedure, just like breathalyzers.
Kentucky State Police spokeswoman Trooper Kendra Wilson said the drugged driving test kits could help all law enforcement keep drivers safer and to protect people on the road.
"All that is a tool for us to see what's going on with the offenders," Wilson said. "And we need to do that to properly enforce the laws."
Even if these drugged driving kits are put into widespread use they likely wouldn't be admissible in Kentucky courts, just as breathalyzers aren't admissible. Prosecutors still need a blood test for a conviction.
California is using the results of a more precise and expensive drugged driving test kit in court. Although people I spoke with said it is likely those convictions will eventually be challenged.