A state toxicology lab will save lives and money according to officials

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The state and city are working together to make Hawaii’s roads safer and save the counties hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

They’re asking for a state run toxicology lab to be built so alcohol and drug samples can be tested here instead of on the mainland.

The Honolulu Police Department is currently able to test for alcohol but the neighbor islands cannot, and all samples that need to tested for drugs currently need to be sent to the mainland for testing.

That adds up.

It can cost up to one thousand dollars for one test. 

“We send out between 120 and 150 drug samples a year,” said Honolulu Police Department Captain Ben Moszkowicz of the traffic division. 

He explained that when you add the neighbor islands to that number, there are between 600 and 700 tests sent out for testing annually.

That equals $600 thousand to $700 thousand a year.

That doesn’t factor in additional expenses when it comes to testifying in court.

“The problem is the person who is conducting the test in the analysis of this blood and a person who is going to testify that their equipment was working properly, and that the testimony is necessary in court, that person is on the mainland…In order to prove a regular petty misdemeanor DUI drug case, we have to bring in two people from the mainland for anywhere from two to three days for trial,” explained Moszkowicz. “It is a significant cost associated with conducting the testing first of all and bringing in witnesses from the mainland to come here and testify.”

He said that expense can impact how cases are treated.

“What happens is a lot of the cases where the toxicologist is on the mainland end up not getting prosecuted, or they’re prosecuted but they’re plea bargained out to a lesser charge because, and rightfully so, the county is maybe not willing to spend $10 to $20 thousand to bring in people for a one day trial that may end up in a plea agreement.”

KHON: “It sounds like the people that are committing these crimes, that are doing these things, really aren’t getting prosecuted because it’s going to cost a lot more money than the state has to spend?”

“A significant portion of them are not,” said Moszkowicz.

Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth said it is an issue.

“Not having those tests make it more difficult to prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Roth said.

There are three things needed to make the lab possible: Equipment, a location and personnel. 

The Department of Transportation has pledged to help

“We would look at funding the upfront funding to ensure that we could buy the equipment. So discussions at this time are about $3.5 million for the equipment to set up a toxicology lab,” said HDOT Deputy Director of Highways Ed Sniffen. 

“The money that comes in from distracted driving goes into the highway fund and it comes up to about $3 million per year. So that’s another fund that we could potential he tapping to help fund this equipment going forward,” Sniffen explained.

Moszkowicz said they have been discussing a possible location with the Department of Health. 

They are hoping to work with the legislature to create the positions needed to do the testing.

He added that having testing done by the state would also be more effective.

“When the vendor tests they are under contract with us to look for certain things, twelve certain categories of things. They look for them and they do an excellent amazing job, but that’s it, they stop looking after what we’ve paid them to look for,” said Moszkowicz.

But when the state tests things like water and air they don’t stop testing until they find out what the substance is.

“We are hoping that by having this be some sort of a state lab that that same Department of Health vision of trying to track down whatever that substance is in that person’s blood would carry forward.”

Ultimately, the toxicology lab is about saving lives.

“Alcohol and drug impaired drivers impact everyone… In the long run it makes the streets safer. It deters people from wanting to drive under the influence of drugs. And it helps us convict people who are driving under the influence of drugs,” said Moszkowicz. 

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