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SBI Fails On Drug Testing

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RALEIGH — Drivers who take drugs are just as dangerous as those who drink.

North Carolina's new DWI policy allows police officers test for drugs, but the State Bureau of Investigations is not able to check the test.

The SBI is swamped with requests by police to complete drug tests, and claim that limited personnel prevents the department from doing the test.

This fact means some drivers who do drugs will slip through the cracks and right back onto the road.

When a police officer stops someone for driving while impaired, they use a breathalyzer to test for alcohol. If drugs are suspected, the officer takes a blood sample, and send it to the the SBI to be tested.

However, samples for many impaired drivers are not being tested.

"We began to get letters from the SBI simply saying that they couldn't do the test because of limited personnel," Cary Police Chief David Fortson said. "We understand that but we also need to do something about that so that we can make it happen."

SBI Director James Coman said that when the new DWI law went into effect last year, requests for drug tests increased by 50 percent. The lab only has three chemists, Coman said that he asked the state for money in July to hire new people, but was denied.

"What we have here is an unfounded a well intended piece of legislation, but it's another example of an unfunded mandate," Coman said. "We get told this is the law, and we're expected to react."

To deal with the increase, in March the SBI restricted their testing. Blood will only be tested for drugs where there is a death or injury, and the blood alcohol level is below the legal limit or if the prosecutor makes a written request.

"That's a function of lack of funding," Lieutenant Governor Dennis Wicker said. "We need to fund the SBI and make sure they have the resources to take on this additional burden so that prosecutors can prosecute people driving while impaired from a controlled substance."

The SBI is going to make a request to the legislature during the short session which starts in May to fund two new chemist positions. For now some of the DWI cases where drugs are involved will probably be dismissed if there are no lab tests to back them up.

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Amanda Lamb, Reporter
Robert Meikle, Photographer
Jason Darwin, Web Editor

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