Rise in drug-driving detections as  polydrug use is 'commonly' found

Alcohol the most likely drug to be detected in the samples that were sent for analysis, followed by cannabis and cocaine.

In 2019, a total of 5,372 drivers were brought to Garda Stations and provided breath specimens for alcohol analysis. Picture: Dan Linehan

There was a 34% increase in the number of tests confirming the presence of drugs in motorists last year under preliminary testing, according to the Medical Bureau of Road Safety.

According to the Bureau's latest annual report, of the 3,230 blood and urine specimens tested for drugs, 2,375 (74% of toxicology specimens and 49% of all specimens received) were positive for at least one drug class on preliminary testing, leading to a 34% overall increase in drug confirmation testing.

The MBRS said polydrug use was "commonly" found among the samples it analysed in 2019, with 45% of positive cases having two or more drugs detected.

The MBRS annual report for 2019 showed the number of blood and urine specimens it received for alcohol analysis (4,854) increased by 25% over 2018 and for drug toxicology analysis increased by 50%.

Alcohol was the most likely drug to be detected in the samples that were sent for analysis at the Bureau, followed by cannabis and cocaine.

According to the annual report, referring to blood or urine samples analysed for drink-driving: "During 2019 there were 1,521 specimens certified which were two or more times over these [legal] limits. This figure represents 32% of the total number of specimens certified."

As for breath samples to detect possible drink-driving, the report said: "From the total of 5,372 completed breath specimens, 45% of these were over twice this [legal] limit."

In 2019, a total of 5,372 drivers were brought to Garda Stations and provided breath specimens for alcohol analysis, and according to the report, "10% of drivers either failed or refused to provide breath specimens".

As for drugs, when it came to roadside testing, 1,484 specimens were returned with Preliminary Drug Testing forms last year - a 137% increase on the 625 returned in 2018.

Of these 1,423 indicated a positive for at least one of the four drugs that the machine can detect. Of those positive cases, 66% were positive for cannabis, 42.9% were positive for cocaine, 8.2% were positive for opiates and 3.8% were positive for benzodiazepines.

According to the MBRS: "The overwhelming detection is for illicit drugs rather than opiates and benzodiazepines which can be legitimately purchased and/or prescribed but can also be misused."

There were 3,230 blood or urine specimens analysed by the Bureau for the presence of a drug or drugs - a 51% increase on the number tested in 2018 and described as a "significant increase" in the report. It is around three times the number tested as recently as in 2016. The MBRS said toxicological analysis was required for 66% of all specimens received, an 11% increase on 2018.

"Of the 3,230 specimens tested 2,375 (74% of Toxicology specimens and 49% of all specimens) were found to be positive for at least one drug class on preliminary laboratory drug testing, while 855 (26%) were negative for the drugs targeted," it said.

"The number of drivers with drug results greater than or equal to the per se legal limits was 1,833 in 2019 which is an increase of 90% when compared to 2018. The number of certificates issued arising from the per se offence exceeded the number issued for presence for the first time."

The workload in confirmatory testing also increased significantly and in the report foreword, MBRS Director Professor Denis A. Cusack said: "The significant increase in blood and urine specimens for analysis continued to challenge the resources of the Bureau".

He also said: "Of the 3,230 blood and urine specimens tested for drugs, 2,375 (74% of toxicology specimens and 49% of all specimens received) were positive for at least one drug class on preliminary testing leading to a 34% overall increase in drug confirmation testing."

The report shows 86% of drivers providing specimens last year were male, with those in the 25 – 34-year-old bracket contributing to the greatest percentage of arrested drivers. Just over a fifth were aged 24 or under, and 5% were over 65.

Of the total number of breath specimens (5,372), 75% were provided between the hours of 7pm and 7am, 11% between7am and 1pm and the remaining 13% between 1pm and 7pm. The early hours of weekends were the most likely time for detection and testing.

Regarding Roadside/Station Based Preliminary Drug Testing (PDT), the MBRS said there as a "significant increase in mobile use (93%)", but the usage of the station-based analysers remained "very low".

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