New roadside cannabis saliva testing device approved

Aug 7, 2019

The Canadian federal government has approved a new roadside tester despite manufacturer warnings of potential problems during test operation in cold weather. Following a 30-day public consultation, Justice Minister David Lametti approved the saliva-testing machine, SoToxa, manufactured by Abbott (previously known as Alere).

The new tester cannot test for drug impairment, but can “presumptively confirm the presence of the drug and, combined with other observations made by the police officer, may provide grounds for the investigation to proceed further,” according to the notice from the federal government. Although the SoToxa device is equipped to test for the presence of cocaine, methamphetamine and THC, it is only approved for the testing of cannabis (THC) in Canada.

The test’s predecessor, Drager DrugTest 5000, has been previously criticized for its high price, limited reliability in cold weather and a noted high number of reported false positive and false negative results. One of the main differences between the SoToxa and the DrugTest 5000 is that the SoToxa performs a few minutes faster and functions better in cold weather.

SoToxa received four submissions during the period of public consultation, according to the justice department’s summary. The summary said, “One respondent raised questions about the scientific evidence related to cannabis use and impairment and asked how approved drug screening equipment tests for recency of use,” while another respondent “expressed concern that the proposed drug screening equipment does not measure an exact level of drug impairment and encouraged the Department of Justice not to support the approval of this technology.”

In a recent report released by Public Safety Canada, the RCMP and the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators had examined the results of a four-month pilot project of two roadside tests, manufactured by Alere (now Abbott) and Securetec, respectively. As part of this project, Canadian police officers had collected 1,141 oral fluid samples and analyzed them at roadside stops using the two devices.

According to the report, the suggested operating temperatures outlined by the manufacturer range from 15 to 25°C for the Alere tester cartridges and between 5 and 25°C for the Securetec tester cartridges, the report also says that the “range for the devices” is from 5 to 40°C for the Securetec devices, and from -20 to 45°C for the Alere cartridges. The findings of the report state that 731 tests were conducted “outside of the manufacturer’s suggested operating temperatures for cartridges.” Moreover, the 64% of tests conducted outside of suggested operating temperatures were responsible for 80% of positive results obtained. “At present, it is unknown whether this finding is attributable to technical or procedural issues, for example whether the devices are more likely to show positive results when tested in extreme cold temperatures,” said the report.

However, the report also says that officers reported temperature-related malfunctions in only 1.2% of all samples collected, including weather conditions being too cold for the device to operate properly. The report also warns that the devices have approximately 95% reliability rates, and that false positives could be potentially detected through secondary analyses.

According to the report, the devices have received “generally positive” feedback from the officers so far, with many reporting that the tester devices were easy to use, and troubleshoot, and functioned well in various weather and lighting conditions.