The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

June 11, 2013

Breath, fluid samples collected at Alabama roadblocks


Associated Press

— PELL CITY, Ala. (AP) — Drivers in St. Clair and Bibb counties who were stopped at roadblocks in the area over the weekend were asked to give anonymous breath, saliva and blood samples as part of a national study, authorities said Monday.

Giving samples was voluntary, and participants were paid $10 for mouth swabs and $50 for blood samples, St. Clair County Sheriff's Lt. Freddie Turrentine told AL.com (http://bit.ly/14PWVBN).

Off-duty officials were helping with tests being conducted by the Maryland-based Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in partnership with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Turrentine said.

"They want to find out of all the people surveyed, how many people were driving with alcohol in their system, or prescription drugs, things like that," he said.

The study is supported and partially funded by the Office of Drug Control Policy and is being conducted at 60 sites across the country, NHTSA spokesman Jose Ucles said.

If drivers refused to give samples, they were allowed to drive away, Turrentine said. He added that his office was asked by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to participate in the study because it had worked with the group six years ago. Bibb County Sheriff Keith Hannah said his department had also participated in the study before the weekend roadblocks were established.

"They were here in 2007," Turrentine told AL.com, "It's just with social media and Facebook now, word of it has just exploded."

Similar studies were conducted in 1973, 1986, 1996 and 2007, Ucles said; however, this was only the second time drivers were asked to voluntarily hand over data on drug and alcohol use, he said. Off-duty authorities were asked to help make the stops to ensure safety in the areas where the tests were being administered.

"If you're doing roadblocks and asking people to stop, you have to have the deputies there to make sure everything is safe," Ucles told AL.com.

Although drivers who didn't want to participate weren't detained, it was unclear Monday night whether drivers who had drugs in their systems were allowed to drive away from the test sites.