PIRE responds to questions about roadside sampling

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — On Monday, CBS42 reported on random samples that were taken recently in St. Clair County during what were believed to be roadblocks.

The discussion about the roadblocks drew attention from Attorney General Luther Strange and Governor Robert Bentley.

Later, it was revealed that the saliva, blood and breath samples were a part of a study being conducted by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE).

On Wednesday, CBS42’s Mike McClanahan spoke with John Lacey, Center Director and Senior Program Director for PIRE, and asked him some questions pertaining to the study.

Q: Who organized the study? Why? And who paid for it?

A: Basically, we’re checking to see if they had these substances on board and at what levels. For alcohol, we have root knowledge about what levels produce impairment for drugs other than alcohol. We’re still learning about that, so this is more about what’s out there.

And then there are other ways to try to learn whether, say, alprazolam at a certain level, Xanax at a certain level impairs driving or not. But that’s down the road.This is finding out whether people are driving with Xanax in their system or driving with marijuana in their system, and then later on we’ll try to learn the extent to which their driving may be better or worse depending upon the drug.

See, we’re looking at several prescription drugs, all of which have an intention to make people healthier. So, some people may be better drivers because they have the drug on board, because otherwise they’d be impaired in a different way, physically limited in what they could do.

[The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Institute on  Drug Abuse (NIDA)] are very much interested in what the patterns are in terms of making rational decisions about what policies to advocate for. That’s really the main motivation for doing these sorts of studies — to find out what the problem really is so that the policy makers are developing programs and procedures to try to deal with issues. They’re dealing with issues that actually exist, making sure that what they’re doing is tailored to reality.

The NHTSA is the principal sponsor, and then the NIDA contributed some money to help fund the study as well.

Q: Why not just use a parking lot?

A: Well, because then we’re just getting a selected subset of the population — people who go to a particular bank or people who go to banks as opposed to people who are out in the general driving population.

From our experience this past weekend, the people that were stopped seemed to very well understand what was going on.

We’re very clear to the people we’re interacting with that it is voluntary, and it is anonymous, and we’re very careful to make sure they understand that. Then we adhere to making sure that that’s a promise we keep.

Lacey says the people who took the samples are trained PIRE staff members who travel to different places for the surveys.

Additionally, Lacey insists that the group did not test DNA. He says the samples were not swabs, but rather were gathered from either placing a strip under the tongue to get 1 milliliter of saliva, a small tube of blood or a breath sample registered by a breathalyzer.

According to Lacey, the specimens gathered during the stops will be destroyed later.

The results of the study were not tallied on site. In fact, Lacey says the breathalyzer used to take the samples has no markings. Rather, the results were stored and downloaded the next day.

“The police will never know the results of the test, and we will never be able to link them to an individual,” Lacey said. “Now, if we encounter somebody in our survey who we’re worried about their safety, we get them home safely.”

Copyright 2013 WIAT-TV CBS 42

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