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New Forensic Toxicology Standard for the Testing of Blood in Impaired Driving Investigations Added to the OSAC Registry

September 29, 2022

Picture of a gloved hand preparing samples for analysis
A forensic toxicologist preparing samples for analysis.

The Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) for Forensic Science has placed a new standard on the OSAC Registry that establishes the various substances a forensic toxicology laboratory must be able to identify, as well as appropriate detection levels, when testing blood samples from impaired driving investigations. This stamp of approval from OSAC, which is administered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), indicates that this standard is technically sound and forensic toxicology laboratories are encouraged to meet this minimum standard of practice. 

This new standard, initially drafted by OSAC’s Forensic Toxicology Subcommittee and further developed by the Academy Standards Board (ASB) Toxicology Consensus Body, is:

Impaired driving is a public health and safety concern, and toxicological testing is an essential part of these investigations. The results may be used as evidence in criminal and civil litigation and may impact potential substance abuse intervention and treatment. 

Blood is the most common specimen that is tested in impaired driving investigations. In addition to alcohol (ethanol), other impairing substances may be encountered. This new standard describes the minimum scope and sensitivity of testing for alcohol, cannabinoids, opioids, and numerous central nervous system depressants and stimulants.

 “This standard describes the minimum requirements for forensic toxicology testing of blood specimens collected from drivers suspected of being impaired” said Marc LeBeau, chair of OSAC’s Chemistry: Seized Drugs & Toxicology Scientific Area Committee, who helped guide the standard through the Registry approval process.

 The requirements in this standard are adapted from guidelines originally published through the work of the National Safety Council's Alcohol, Drug, and Impairment Division (NSC-ADID). In 2004, the NSC-ADID started an initiative to standardize toxicology laboratory testing practices for cases involving driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) and traffic fatalities. Laboratories performing toxicology testing in these cases were asked to complete a survey about their scope of testing and the analytical cutoffs they used. Based on survey results and consensus input from a panel of forensic toxicologists, recommendations for toxicological testing in impaired driving investigations were first published in 2007. 

With the support from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), these recommendations have been updated three times to reflect changes in technology and the rapidly changing landscape of new psychoactive substances (NPSs). The most recent update, which provides recommendations for blood, urine and oral fluid was published in 2021. Those updated recommendations served as the basis for the development of ANSI/ASB 120. “This standard is critically important," said Sarah Kerrigan, member of OSAC’s Forensic Science Standards Board and forensic toxicologist. “Drug-impaired driving has serious consequences and effective toxicology testing improves traffic safety for everyone,” said Kerrigan. All laboratories performing toxicology testing in DUID investigations are encouraged to meet this minimum standard. 

Compliance with this new standard, as with almost all forensic science standards in the United States, is voluntary. As part of NIST’s cooperative agreement with the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), AAFS is developing training, tools, and resources to broaden awareness of forensic science among communities of interest and enhance implementation efforts. One of these resources, AAFS Standards Factsheets, provide a clear, concise, and easy way to understand information on the purpose of a standard, why it is needed, and the benefits of adoption. A factsheet is available for ANSI/ASB 120

In addition to ANSI/ASB 120, two other similar forensic toxicology standards have been published for other investigation types. ANSI/ASB Standard 121, Standard for the Analytical Scope and Sensitivity of Forensic Toxicological Testing of Urine in Drug-Facilitated Crime Investigations, also builds from and standardizes previously published work concerning recommended scope and sensitivity for the testing of urine in drug-facilitated crime cases, such as sexual assault. While ANSI/ASB Standard 119, Standard for the Analytical Scope and Sensitivity of Forensic Toxicological Testing of Blood in Medicolegal Death Investigations, describes the minimum requirements for postmortem casework. 

For more information on OSAC’s role in the standards development process, visit the OSAC website.

Created September 29, 2022