Responsibility.org and Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene Launch Pilot Program to Assess Nationwide Toxicology Lab Resources
ARLINGTON, VA – Today, Responsibility.org and the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene (WSLH) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison launched the National Resource Toxicologist Pilot Program. The program is a multi-year (2020-2022) national assessment of forensic toxicology laboratories to identify challenges, successes, gaps, and funding issues related to impaired driving (drugs and alcohol) testing and data.
To launch the program, Responsibility.org is providing a three-year, $150,000 grant to the WSLH – Forensic Toxicology Section, headed by Director Amy Miles.
“Responsibility.org and the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene share a common vision of eliminating impaired driving from our nation’s roadways to save lives,” said Darrin T. Grondel, vice president of government relations and traffic safety at Responsibility.org. “We are proud to join forces and know Director Amy Miles will be instrumental in this work identifying the unique challenges facing our toxicology laboratories and finding resources for better screening, data collection, and utilization of proven countermeasures.”
Impaired driving is a systemic multi-factor problem, and toxicology laboratories are key sources of data that provide better understanding of the full extent of the issue. However, widespread resource constraints prohibit forensic toxicology laboratories from testing for a full range of drugs and alcohol, leading to an incomplete picture of the scope of impaired driving in the United States. To better understand the full extent, additional research is needed to assess the financial and operational challenges that toxicology labs face in testing for substances.
“Impaired driving has never been fully characterized due to the lack of funding for drug and alcohol testing for public forensic toxicology laboratories,” said Amy Miles, director of forensic toxicology at the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene. “Many laboratories have implemented limited testing workflows which allow the blood alcohol concentration to dictate whether or not drug testing will occur. This partnership is the first of its kind and will work to uncover what hinderances forensic toxicology labs face in conducting drug and alcohol testing.”
An Increasing number of impaired drivers are multi-substance impaired, meaning they have both drugs and alcohol or drug combinations in their system. In order to increase public safety and decrease tragedies resulting from impaired driving, more accurate testing is demanded to uncover the root cause of the issue.
“In 2019, nearly 11,000 people lost their lives in alcohol impaired driving crashes—but we do not know how many of those also included drugs,” continued Grondel. “To eliminate impaired diving, we must target resources and interventions that address gaps and challenges with toxicology and multi-substance impaired driving.”
In partnership with the Society of Forensic Toxicologists, Amy Miles will conduct a national assessment of state toxicology laboratories to improve the quality of data and foster communication with stakeholders such as state highway safety offices, law enforcement, attorneys and judges to gauge the needs of laboratories.
"National statistics show that nearly as many fatally-injured drivers are drug-impaired as those who are impaired by alcohol,” said Jennifer Harmon, Crime Laboratory Director for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. “These statistics echo those seen by local jurisdictions of suspected DUI arrestees as well, when comprehensive toxicology testing is conducted. Yet, public agencies and their public health and crime laboratories are severely under-resourced in forensic toxicology. The National Resource Toxicologist Pilot Program will provide collaboration, coordination and data to articulate the needs toxicology labs have to improve traffic safety outcomes."
To obtain a well-rounded understanding of the issue and expand the reach and understanding of toxicology, WSLH will also consult with states or local agencies; provide training in conjunction with relevant state- and locally-based organizations; act as liaison between toxicology labs and national law enforcement and security partners, toxicology organizations, and universities; serve as a consultant in Frye and Daubert challenges that arise across the country in relation to Driving Under the influence (DUI) and Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) toxicology and the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) Program; and, consult on policy issues related to toxicology at the Federal, state, and local level.
Highlighting the importance of the program, Miles continued: “Until we are able to test all impaired drivers for all substances, we will never understand the complete impact of impaired driving on public health.”
For more information about the National Resource Toxicologist Pilot Program, please contact WSLH Forensic Toxicology Section Director Amy Miles at [email protected] or 608-224-6247.
Responsibility.org is a national not-for-profit that aims to eliminate drunk driving and work with others to end all impaired driving, eliminate underage drinking, and empowers adults to make a lifetime of responsible alcohol choices as part of a balanced lifestyle. Responsibility.org is funded by the following distillers: Bacardi U.S.A., Inc.; Beam Suntory Inc.; Brown-Forman; DIAGEO; Edrington, Mast-Jägermeister US, Inc.; Moët Hennessy USA; Ole Smoky, LLC; and Pernod Ricard USA. For nearly 30 years, Responsibility.org has transformed countless lives through programs that bring individuals, families, and communities together to inspire a lifetime of responsible alcohol choices. To learn more, please visit Responsibility.org.
About the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene:
The Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene is the state’s public, environmental and occupational health laboratory. The WSLH Forensic Toxicology Section provides alcohol and drug testing, interpretation of WSLH test results, and court testimony to coroners/medical examiners and law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin. Testing provided to coroners and medical examiners assists these county officials in routine death investigations. Testing for law enforcement agencies is limited to traffic safety and other motor vehicle matters (boats, ATVs and snowmobiles), in support of Wisconsin’s impaired driving laws (Wisconsin Statute 343.305). The WSLH Forensic Toxicology Section receives about 20,000 specimens annually for alcohol and/or drug testing. Approximately 10% of these specimens are for death investigations. WSLH Toxicology staff also provide education and training to members of law enforcement, attorneys and judges in Wisconsin and nationally, as well as serve in leadership positions in national forensic toxicology organizations.