Manitoba RCMP aware of suspected poppy seed ‘false positives’ on roadside drug test

Suspected false positives are raising questions about the effectiveness of a machine used for roadside drug tests.

The Drager DrugTest 5000, which is currently being tested by Manitoba RCMP and in active use in some jurisdictions across the country, has apparently given false positive readings for people who have consumed harmless food like poppy seeds.

Manitoba RCMP sergeant Paul Manaigre told 680 CJOB the Manitoba police force is still testing the machines and that reports of false positives are definitely worth considering.

“We’re still continuing a testing phase of six devices,” said Manaigre. “We’re hearing rumours of false positives. The rumour mills are definitely swirling around on these devices.

“The testing phase is extremely important to ensure that we have devices that are going to give us the results we need as far as accuracy.

“Drug-impaired driving is a huge concern, so we want to make sure if we are pulling these people off the roads, that they are indeed accurate.”

Winnipeg police don’t have any of the devices and instead rely on field sobriety tests administered by officers.

Vancouver lawyer Paul Doroshenko told 680 CJOB he found that the Drager DrugTest 5000 falsely gives a positive reading for opiates minutes after he ate a poppy seed cake from Tim Hortons.

Doroshenko said as part of the testing process, his firm hired cannabis smokers to see how accurate the devices were in detecting drug use. On the way to the test, he stopped by the coffee shop to pick up some donuts for the test subjects to eat.

“I didn’t really want a donut myself, but I saw some poppy seed cake there, and wondered if poppy seeds had anything (that would be picked up by the device) in there,” he said.

“So I bought the poppy seed cake. I did the first test on myself, and sure enough: positive for opioids. Seventeen minutes after I ate the poppy seed cake and inserted the sample into the drug test, it came up almost right away as positive.”

Similar false positives, he said, could come from people drinking coca leaf tea and testing positive for cocaine.

“We decided to buy one of these and test it out and see whether or not it stood up to the requirements it would need to meet for Canadian law,” said Doroshenko.

“We contacted some experts – scientists, forensic toxicologists who work in this particular field – and said, come up with some testing criteria, come up with a plan, and see if this device works in the way we were told it would.”

The main problem with the false positives, Doroshenko said, is that because the accuracy of the devices is presumed, it would be difficult for an innocent person to successfully fight an impaired-driving conviction.

“How do you fight it? It’s a badly-designed law and a device that doesn’t really fit within our legal system.”

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