Cocaine field test defended
The manufacturer of the cocaine field test that produced conflicting results in a controversial Aspen drug arrest says the test is 100 percent accurate, if used properly.
“We perform our own tests here in our laboratory and we believe that our tests are 100 percent accurate in testing for the substance cocaine,” said Julie Anderson, director of marketing/communications for the parent company of NIK Public Safety, Inc., the manufacturer of the cocaine field test used by local police agencies. NIK is based in Jacksonville, Fla.
“This is the first time I’ve been approached with any questions about this particular kind of test,” she said. Anderson added that the NIK “G” test used in the Aspen case is particularly reliable.
“Our NIK files are very, very strong and state forensic labs always are very supportive of our products, particularly the G test,” she said. “Your call to me is the first time I’ve heard of this kind of problem.”
British subject Brian Palmer was arrested in Aspen on July 15 and held in jail for 19 days on the basis of a field test on what he said was baking powder found in his possession. The initial test indicated the presence of cocaine, according to police, but subsequent tests were negative.
Palmer was released from the Pitkin County Jail Monday on a personal recognizance bond.
At Palmer’s first court appearance on July 19, he claimed that the substance found in his possession was baking soda. Three subsequent NIK field tests performed on the substance – two for cocaine, one for methamphetamine – all produced negative results. The substance is presently being tested by the Colorado Bureau of Investigations.
Laboratory testing done at CBI will produce definitive results, according to Chet Ubowski, the agent in charge of CBI’s Denver forensic laboratory.
Ubowski said CBI does not use the field test kit used by police agencies.
“We don’t use those types of kits at CBI – they’re only used in the field to get presumptive indication of drugs,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said the NIK test, and others like it, employ basic chemistry and should not produce incorrect results if used properly.
“It’s a very common test, and it’s very basic,” he explained. “So they do have a very high validity on testing, it’s a basic chemical process.”
However, he said, there are some external factors which can lead to invalid results.
“There may be substances, or combinations of substances in the substance, that do cause false positives in the test, but those are pretty rare,” he said.
Straight baking soda should not trigger a positive result on such a test, he added.
“When you’re dealing with substances like cocaine, you also have to realize whether you’re actually getting the controlled substance into the test,” he said, “because it could be the cut agent, or dilutant, and therefore you might miss the controlled substance. Particularly if something is seriously diluted, there could be a problem with the sample taken.”
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