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First nationwide study on driving under the influence of drugs in Switzerland.

Research paper by Maria-Cristina MC Senna, Marc M Augsburger, Beat B Aebi, Thomas A TA Briellmann, Nicolas N Donzé, Jean-Luc JL Dubugnon, Peter X PX Iten, Christian C Staub, Walter W Sturm, Karl K Sutter

Indexed on: 10 Mar '10Published on: 10 Mar '10Published in: Forensic Science International



Abstract

In Switzerland, a two-tier system based on impairment by any psychoactive substances which affect the capacity to drive safely and zero tolerance for certain illicit drugs came into force on 1 January 2005. According to the new legislation, the offender is sanctioned if Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol THC is >or=1.5ng/ml or amphetamine, methamphetamine, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 3,4-methylenedioxyethylamphetamine (MDEA), cocaine, free morphine are >or=15ng/ml in whole blood (confidence interval+/-30%). For all other psychoactive substances, impairment must be proven in applying the so-called "three pillars expertise". At the same time the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for driving was lowered from 0.80 to 0.50g/kg. The purpose of this study was to analyze the prevalence of drugs in the first year after the introduction of the revision of the Swiss Traffic Law in the population of drivers suspected of driving under the influence of drugs (DUID). A database was developed to collect the data from all DUID cases submitted by the police or the Justice to the eight Swiss authorized laboratories between January and December 2005. Data collected were anonymous and included the age, gender, date and time of the event, the type of vehicle, the circumstances, the sampling time and the results of all the performed toxicological analyses. The focus was explicitly on DUID; cases of drivers who were suspected to be under the influence of ethanol only were not considered. The final study population included 4794 DUID offenders (4243 males, 543 females). The mean age of all drivers was 31+/-12 years (range 14-92 years). One or more psychoactive drugs were detected in 89% of all analyzed blood samples. In 11% (N=530) of the samples, neither alcohol nor drugs were present. The most frequently encountered drugs in whole blood were cannabinoids (48% of total number of cases), ethanol (35%), cocaine (25%), opiates (10%), amphetamines (7%), benzodiazepines (6%) and methadone (5%). Other medicinal drugs such as antidepressants and benzodiazepine-like were detected less frequently. Poly-drug use was prevalent but it may be underestimated because the laboratories do not always analyze all drugs in a blood sample. This first Swiss study points out that DUID is a serious problem on the roads in Switzerland. Further investigations will show if this situation has changed in the following years.