In 2015, meth becomes most common substance after alcohol in DUI blood tests

October 18, 2016 - Missoulian

BILLINGS – For the first time, methamphetamine outpaced marijuana as the most common drug found in addition to alcohol in DUI samples sent to the state crime lab last year.

Meth has also been detected more often in other cases that the crime lab’s toxicology division handles, according to a summary report from the Montana Department of Justice’s Forensic Science Division.

“I think that’s the real take-home of this summary, is the massive increase in methamphetamine,” said Scott Larson, toxicology supervisor at the crime lab.

Alcohol remains the most prevalent substance found in DUI toxicology cases.

In 2015, alcohol was the only detected substance in 2,277 cases. There were 3,380 total DUI cases tested that year.

The lab had 294 DUI cases involving meth, and the concentration of the drug increased 123 percent. That’s up from 2011, when state toxicologists processed 73 DUI samples that were positive for meth.

Marijuana used to be the most common substance after alcohol found in DUI blood tests. In 2015, meth became more common in DUI blood tests, according to the lab.

The toxicology section of the state crime lab in Missoula also does postmortem drug screens for medical examiners and analyzes drug and alcohol tests for cases that involve drug-endangered children. The lab also analyzes urine tests for the Department of Corrections — inmates and those on probation.

The lab tests for a range of different drugs — like marijuana, prescription narcotics, hallucinogens and inhalants. The overall number of positive drug findings has decreased over the years.

DUIs make up the largest caseload, accounting for more than half of the 6,139 cases handled last year. In the majority of DUI tests, alcohol is the only substance present in the blood sample.

But meth has increased in other test areas. They include postmortem drug screens, where the lab had 20 positive cases for meth in 2011. That jumped to 73 in 2015, though the lab handled 801 total cases.

Urinalysis tests conducted on probationers and parolees have turned up more meth as well. No other drug has spiked in the same way.

Chris Evans, deputy chief for the Billings region of Montana Probation and Parole, said that there was certainly an increase in violations for meth use since 2011. He said that when officers spoke to the offenders, they heard it was often an easy drug to get.

“The availability of methamphetamine during that time was a lot greater,” he said. “There was just more of it around.”

Of the 1,192 urinalysis cases handled by the lab in 2015, more than 550 turned up positive for meth. There were fewer than 200 in 2011.

In DUI, urine and postmortem samples, meth was the only drug other than alcohol that has steadily become more common.

Other institutions, including the court system, have seen the effects of increased meth use. A February report by The Gazette found that the number of felony drug possession charges in Yellowstone County has significantly increased over the years. Most of them involved meth.

Other findings

The report also tallied tests from traffic fatalities. In more than a third of fatal crashes cases in 2015, no drugs or alcohol were found in the victims.

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