New tech could help police combat drug-impaired driving

A handheld analyzer uses saliva to detect the presence of six kinds of drugs in five minutes


By Suzie Ziegler

MADISON COUNTY, Ill. — Police across the country may soon have a fast and easy way to learn if someone is driving under the influence of drugs. The SoToxa Mobile Test System uses a saliva swab to detect the presence of six drugs (cocaine, meth, opiates, marijuana, amphetamine and benzodiazepines) within a few minutes, according to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (ICJI).

“It’s basically lab quality results in the palm of their hand in five minutes,” said Fred Delfino, a law enforcement liaison with SoToxa parent company Abbott, in an interview with KMOV.

Fred Delfino, a law enforcement liaison with Abbott Toxicology, exhibits the saliva collection device being used by Michigan police to conduct roadside tests for drugged driving.
Fred Delfino, a law enforcement liaison with Abbott Toxicology, exhibits the saliva collection device being used by Michigan police to conduct roadside tests for drugged driving. (Emily Lawler, MLive.com)

The technology is still relatively new. So far it has been used in a few states including Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. In Indiana, 52 law enforcement agencies were given a SoToxa device in December 2020, according to an ICJI press release.

Delfino says SoToxa tests for a simple positive or negative result. It can’t tell an officer how high the driver is. 

“Our marijuana is at 25 nano-grams, so that’s the level of threshold,” Delfino told KMOV. “There or above will test as a positive result, lower than that it will come back as a negative result.” 

This reality has drawn some worry. According to KMOV, there is concern because there is no scientific measure for determining how high someone is. 

Company representatives and law enforcement officials say SoToxa would be used as an additional tool, not as a replacement for current methods. 

“SoToxa is not a substitute for officer training or experience,” said Rob Duckworth, ICJI Traffic Safety Director, in a statement. “It’s an additional resource they can use to remove drugged and dangerous drivers from using the road. Undoubtedly, this technology will save lives.”

According to ICJI, the SoToxa test can be refused, and its results can only be used to further establish probable cause, not as evidence in court to determine if the driver was impaired.

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