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'Wet lab' provides practice, training for law enforcement

Oct 15, 2013 - By Andrea Novotny, Staff Writer

Officials used a transdermal alcohol monitoring device called SCRAM during the drinking exercise.

The drinking began at 9 a.m.

In three, one-hour sessions Aug. 9, five volunteers consumed alcohol, drove vehicle simulators, and submitted to breathalyzers and field sobriety tests during the "wet lab" sponsored by Injury Prevention Resources. The project was an effort to educate and raise awareness about drunk driving, and also to provide practice and training for law enforcement.

Each volunteer consumed different alcoholic beverages, but in each round, all consumed the equivalent of 1.5 ounces of pure alcohol -- roughly three 4-ounce drinks.

At the end of the second round, any participants showing signs of intoxication were given field sobriety tests by police officers. Every participant failed.

Safety education coordinator Tom Cunningham said the officers noted that every participant would have been arrested in the second round. At that time, only one of the five volunteers registered a BAC above .08 percent, the legal limit in Wyoming.

Performance on the simulator was not tracked, but was broadcast live on an 80-inch flat screen TV so that the public could view the increasingly intoxicated participants' travels from the driver's perspective.

"No one passed," said Cunningham.

The same was true for every participant, in every round.

SCRAM

Another component of the study was the use of transdermal alcohol monitoring technology. Each participant wore a Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring bracelet for the duration of the wet lab.

"Has anyone ever been around someone the morning after they've been drinking, and they've got that smell to them?" SCRAM regional account manager Brett Wilday asked the crowd at the wet lab. "That's actually alcohol coming out through their pores. That's what SCRAM picks up on."

Transdermal alcohol monitoring technology, like SCRAM, measures intoxication through non-visible perspiration. When alcohol is consumed, 1 percent is released as gas from the pores in the skin. The SCRAM bracelet monitors that non-visible perspiration and sends the data to the SCRAM regional facility in Denver.

The data appears as a graph, with indicators to ensure that the device is not compromised. A blue line shows whether anything has been done to alter the results, such as inserting something between the skin and the device. A red line indicates temperature to ensure that the bracelet is not removed. Alcohol consumption based on non-visible perspiration is indicated with a black line.

County participation

Fremont County IPR currently has 138 clients on DUI supervised probation, 13 of whom use a SCRAM bracelet. Under supervised probation, clients are required to submit to regular monitoring of their alcohol consumption, either through twice-daily BAC tests or through the device.

Though it is more expensive than a breathalyzer -- one SCRAM bracelet costs $1,400 -- transdermal alcohol monitoring technology has a few advantages over traditional BAC tests. Chiefly, it is more reliable.

"People can drink between BACs, even if you set them 12 hours apart," said Wilday.

Alcohol can be metabolized and leave the system in as little as two and a half hours. The SCRAM bracelet monitors alcohol consumption 24 hours a day, showing when a client started consuming, when they peaked, and when the alcohol left their system, Wilday explained.

Additionally, it is sometimes more practical to require clients to wear a SCRAM bracelet than to impose twice-daily BAC tests, especially for offenders who live and work in remote locations. It is usually not feasible for clients in Dubois or Shoshoni to drive to Riverton twice daily for the tests, said Marcy Leseberg of IPR.

IPR currently has an 80 percent compliance or success rate, meaning that 80 percent of the clients who go through the program finish successfully, said Noel Cooper, executive director of IPR. In the four years since IPR began the program, only 12 of the 456 individuals who have successfully completed the program have returned as repeat offenders -- a 2.7 percent recidivism rate.

"People who go through our program don't want to come back, because it's difficult and it holds them accountable," Cooper said.

Offenders must go through IPR's supervised probation program when it is prescribed by a judge and the Fremont County Attorney's Office.

"The only issue we have is it's not mandatory for people to come see us," Cooper said.

But that could change if Wyoming passes legislation in February to adopt the 24/7 Sobriety Program, Leseberg said.

The program, developed in South Dakota and now used in several other states, would be an alternative to incarceration under the condition that offenders remain sober.

At a July 18 meeting in Lusk, the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee gave the initial approval for creating such a program up for consideration in the next legislative session.

"We're behind on the times as far as what's being done around us," Cooper said.

Between 2006 and 2010, Fremont County experienced the highest rate for alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities, totaling more than twice the state average, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

"We're not asking for something out of the norm," Cooper said. "But people have to be willing to work on it. You can live with the problem or you can step out of the box and try to solve it."

Cunningham stressed that the safety of all participants was important in the project. Before being allowed to leave the wet lab, all subjects were medically cleared by EMTs and were then provided with a ride home.

Cooper said IPR plans to take the information collected in the wet lab to schools, including Central Wyoming College, to educate students about drinking and driving. He also said that IPR would like to conduct the event again, possibly in 2015.

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