Performs the police academy's drug test

"My work is related to the police and the judiciary"

10% of all controlled vehicle drivers are under the influence of alcohol or drugs - and the trend is rising. So it's no wonder that the police and judiciary are increasingly looking to collaborate with toxicologists.

As the deputy chief biologist of the Central Institute of Hospitals (ZIS) and a keen observer of the latest developments in the field of alcohol and drug consumption, the toxicologist Nicolas Donzé has noticed an explosive increase in cannabis use by motorists. Toxicology, the police and the judiciary are therefore very busy and work closely together.

Nicolas Donzé, how much of your work is related to the police and the judiciary?
This is difficult to quantify in working hours, but 90% of all inquiries that the ZIS forensic toxicology department receives come from the police and the judiciary.

How do you have to imagine that concretely?
We receive the samples in a sealed container, anonymously and safe from confusion. These are then analyzed in the laboratory and the inquirer receives the results including an explanation.

And that was it?
No, our cooperation continues. It should be noted that the recipients of the results are mostly non-medical professionals. If necessary, we will inform you by phone how the results are to be interpreted. I can be reached around the clock and any police officer can call me. By the way, that happens often. Sometimes I can't answer all of the questions because I'm a toxicologist, not a doctor. But in any case, I can explain what we found in the blood.

Are the police themselves trained to recognize whether someone is under the influence of drugs?
Yes, especially thanks to the cooperation with us. When I started this work in 2004, we just sent the police the "bare" results and that was it. We didn't really get in touch. So I met the police once to see if we could optimize something. It quickly became clear that there were many unanswered questions and that the police would appreciate a better explanation of the laboratory results. So today I regularly give courses at the Savatan Police Academy. It's very interesting because there I can directly sensitize those people to drug issues who are directly involved. In particular, we work according to the American method for “drug recognition experts”, which allows us to quickly identify whether someone is under the influence of drugs.

Isn't it obvious if someone is under the influence of drugs or not?
No. You can sit behind the wheel with red eyes and a tired expression on your face without necessarily having consumed cannabis. In contrast to alcohol, a drug test may only be carried out by law if symptoms of possible drug use are present. The police officer needs to know these symptoms in order to make an initial assessment. Nobody should be subjected to unnecessarily extensive investigations, because once the judicial machinery is in motion it can quickly become uncomfortable for the person concerned ... so it is all the more important that this only happens if there is real reason to believe that someone has been using drugs.

Are drug-driving cases increasing?
Yes. In around 10% of the 15,000 traffic checks that the police carry out every year in Valais, the drivers are under the influence of a psychoactive substance. In 30 to 40% of cases, this is not alcohol, but other substances, especially cannabis. In general, cannabis use seems to have increased explosively. Over 50% of drivers caught under the influence of cannabis smoke weed every day. Drugs are also being mixed more and more frequently. Today's adventure society simply takes what it gets.

So you have to do more and more drug tests?
In 2004 we analyzed 30 drug cases per year (excluding alcohol cases), we have now reached over 300. On the other hand, the analyzes in connection with alcohol have declined sharply because the results of the breath alcohol measuring devices have recently become legally conclusive. A blood test is no longer necessary. Before the law was changed, we carried out around 1,000 alcohol analyzes per year, with an average value of 1.5 per mille.

We have now mainly talked about traffic controls, but you also work with the judiciary in other areas ...
Yes, for example with the public prosecutor. Often the question arises whether a certain behavior can be traced back to drug use, because this is a popular “excuse”. It is our job to provide the judiciary with objective facts that incriminate or exonerate the accused. If a murderer has an alcohol level of 3 per mille, his lawyer will try to prove that his client did not know what he was doing. However, our analyzes could indicate that this is a habitual drinker who, even with 3 per mille, still knew exactly what he was doing. We deliver results and explanations. Everyone is responsible for further processing.

How do you ensure the quality of your work?
We work closely with the University Center for Forensic Medicine in Western Switzerland. And the reports are always signed by two research assistants. With the large number of dossiers that we have to deal with, it is very important never to lose sight of quality.