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Police drug testing kits can and do result in false positives

The war on drugs has had an astronomically high cost to taxpayers and those who face drug charges. Considering how severe the consequences can be for drug possession, it stands to reason that police would want to do everything in their power to prevent mistaken arrests and misidentification of substances. But sadly, that isn't always the case.

According to a recent news article, many law enforcement agencies around the country use a $2 Narcotics Identification Kit (called a NIK test) to test substances in the field prior to making arrests. These NIK tests are notorious for false positives, meaning that harmless, legal substances are often misidentified as illegal drugs.

Tortilla flour and baking soda have been identified as cocaine. Vitamins have been identified as amphetamines and candy has been mistaken for meth. In many cases, the errors can later be corrected by doing more sophisticated lab testing. But even if these false positives don't result in a conviction, they can and do result in arrest and the consequences that often accompany it.

Earlier this year, a husband and wife trucking team were arrested after a routine inspection revealed bags of baking soda that were misidentified as cocaine. The woman explained that she uses baking soda for many different things, and keeps it in bags because she buys it in bulk.

Authorities at the scene tested the baking soda three different times with two different kits, and all three tests came back positive. The couple was arrested and their truck was impounded. The spent two months in jail before an attorney was able to prove that the substance was merely baking soda. It would take another two months to get their truck back.

Because they had previously been hauling explosives for the military, the arrest resulted in losing their security clearance, which they are still working to get back.

This nightmarish scenario might seem like a rare mistake. But it is important to remember that NIK tests are used by police around the country. And even if mistakes are caught and corrected, it usually takes significant time for this process to play out.

Drug arrests have serious consequences even before charges are filed. To protect your rights and your future, please contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away if you have been arrested for an alleged drug crime.

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Robert D. DiDio
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