Would You Want a Cop Taking Blood from You?

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on February 1st, 2005

In an effort to reduce costs in DUI cases, some law enforcement agencies — often with federal support — are circumventing the usual procedures of having a nurse or medical technician withdraw blood and simply having the arresting officer do it himself. From a recent news article:

OGDEN (January 30, 2005) – Some Utah Highway Patrol troopers are becoming medically certified to draw blood from motorists they suspect of driving while intoxicated.Without the medical certification, troopers now must either take a suspect to a hospital or call in a certified technician to stick a needle in the suspect’s arm and take a sample. Every time a trooper does that, it costs the Highway Patrol $50 or $60. Perry said that costs about $25,000 per year.

A Federal Highway Safety Administration grant provided the funds to hire the Utah School of Phlebotomy to teach troopers how to draw blood. Beth Anderson, president of the school, said the compressed four-session course certifies the troopers as phlebotomists, legally and medically able to safely take a blood sample. The course teaches troopers how to get used to the idea of sticking someone with a needle, which isn’t always that easy, she said. ‘’The thing is, you’ve got to get over that mental state of going in through some guy’s skin,'’ she said. ‘’Then you hold [the vein] so it doesn’t roll, and you’re in there.'’

Instruction also includes patient care, confidentiality, and what to watch for if the subject is about to collapse at the idea of being stuck with a needle. The troopers actually poke each other with the needles for practice in the classes – eight sticks per trooper at each of the four sessions. By the end, the dozen troopers in an early first class sported arms flecked with bruises and needle marks.

Confidentiality? Patient care? Honestly, now, would you want a police officer to use a hypodermic needle on you? Ignoring the pain, injury and infection aspects for the moment, bear in mind that: the blood must be taken from a vein, not an artery (which has a higher blood-alcohol concentration); the skin must be swabbed with an approved antiseptic (not isopropyl alcohol, which can raise the blood-alcohol concentration); the correct amount must be taken, with no contamination from the officer; it must be placed in a sterile and sealed vial; an approved preservative in the correct amount must be added and mixed in (to prevent fermentation, which increases BAC); an anti-coagulant (to prevent clotting, which increases BAC) must also be added, again in the correct amounts; etc….. But the bottom line is that it costs fifty bucks to do it with a truly qualified person. And, anyway, its "close enough for government work".

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