Little Rock Drug Recognition Experts


What is a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE)?

A DRE is a designation given to police officers that have received specialized training with an emphasis in recognizing when people have drugs (prescription and illegal) in their system.  They then testify in cases involving DWI Drugs.


Has the DRE protocol been scientifically validated?

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, when the DREs claimed drugs other than alcohol were present, they were almost always detected in the blood (94%).   But if you were to look in the police officer’s training manual the percentages broken down by category are more telling. The percentages listed in the manual by drug category are:

PCP 92%

Narcotic Analgesics 85%

Cannabis 78%

Depressants 50%

CNS Stimulants 33%

The primary study validating the Drug Recognition Expert protocol is the John Hopkins study.  Our attorneys have included information below about the study.

Identifying Types of Drug Intoxication (1985)

Test subjects were:

Adults 18-35


Healthy (no physical problems and no history of medication use)

Performed adequately on psychomotor tests

Then they were trained on the psychomotor tests

If one considers the very specific people used in the study it is easy to see why the numbers are subject to great skepticism.  The people used are certainly not representative of our DWI Drug clients.  Our clients are generally over 25, mostly female, not healthy (which is why they are taking medication), and have never taken psychomotor test.  It does not take a rocket scientist to determine there is a huge difference in our clients and those used in the study.   


What training does a Drug Recognition Expert receive?

Phase 1: Preliminary Training (Our attorneys refer to this as Pre-school)

It is two days of learning basic drug terminology and the 7 drug categories.  This is also the police officer’s introduction to the Clinical and Psychophysical examination procedures.

Phase 2: Main Drug Recognition Expert Training

This section is a seven day school.  It usually takes place 3 or 4 weeks after preschool.  The training includes an overview of the drug evaluation process, legal issues, case preparation, and testimony preparation.

Phase 3: DRE Certification Training:

On the Job Training (OJT): The officers must identify 12 people found to be positive for drugs.  The trainee must identify at least 3 of the 7 categories.  Then take a test.  The OJT is to be monitored by a DRE instructor.


What are the steps of the Drug Recognition Expert protocol?

Step 1: The police officer must first check to see if the person arrested has a blood alcohol concentration of .08% of higher by administering a breath test.  If the person is .08% of higher the exam stops and the person is arrested for DWI Alcohol.  If the person registers below the legal limit the officers keep looking.

Step 2: The second step is to interview arresting officer.  This sounds much more formal than the reality of it.  It, generally, consists of the DRE asking the arresting police officer what happened and why he/she was called over to do an evaluation.  It would often relate to whether the person admitted drug use, were drugs found in the car, was there paraphernalia, etc…

Step 3: The preliminary examination is a simply the officer asking a number of “qualifying” questions about when they last went to the doctor, what medications they take, what medical conditions they have, and other questions that may lead the DRE to determine that there should be a medical rule out.

Step 4: This step is where DREs examine the eyes by conducting the horizontal gaze nystagmus, vertical gaze nystagmus, and check for a lack of convergence.  Don’t worry if you are not sure what that means.  Our attorneys are very versed in all of these tests and the multitude of causes for each.

Step 5: Next officers get the arrested person to perform the divided attention tests.  These are the tradition tests (nine step heel to toe and standing on 1 leg) but with the addition of the finger to nose and Rhomberg (a test where the person closes their eyes and tilts their head back) tests.

Step 6: The DRE would then check the arrested person vitals by recording the persons BP, heart rate, and body temperature.  The heart rate should be checked a total of three times at different intervals.

Step 7: The DRE must also do a darkroom examination of pupil size in various lighting conditions (this part also includes an examination of the nasal and oral cavities).

Step 8: Next is a check of the arrested persons muscle tone.  The DRE will list the muscle tone as Rigid, Flaccid, or Near Normal.  Notice there is no category for normal.  This test is also very subjective in that there are no standards to determine rigidity vs flaccidity.  

Step 9: The DRE must check for injection sites.  The DRE is looking for fresh puncture makes and scarring from previous use.

Step 10: This step is crucial in that it requires the officer to ask what the person what they are impaired by.  These statements are often the most damning because the person is giving up their right to remain silent, often are simply admitting the medication they are prescribed and not at all intending to admit they are impaired by that medication.

Step 11: The DRE then takes all the information they have received and form an opinion.  The police officer will name the drug category they believe the person is impaired by or will determine they person is not impaired by a drug.

Step 12: The final step is to do urine or blood test to confirm that drugs are in the arrested person’s system.  The presence of drugs does not mean the person is impaired by the drug.  Each drug has its own half-life and can show up for hours or days after the effects of the drug have dissipated.  For example, marijuana can stay in urine for up to 45 days but no one could argue a person would be impaired for 45 days.


What equipment does a Drug Recognition Expert use to do a drug evaluation?


Sphygmomanometer (Blood pressure cuff)


Thermometer: oral, digital, with disposable covers.

Penlight: low power, medical style.

Magnifying light: generally five to ten magnification power, similar to those used by stamp collectors and model builders.

Pen or Pencil: used to conduct eye examinations.

Evidence containers: for blood or urine

Protective gloves, latex and/or rubber.


What is the definition of a drug?

The definition under Arkansas law is: Controlled substance means a drug, substance, or immediate precursor in Schedules I through VI. The fact that any person charged with a violation of this act is or has been entitled to use that drug or controlled substance under the laws of this state shall not constitute a defense against any charge of violating this act;

The definition of a drug in the DRE protocol is: Any substance, which when taken into the human body, can impair the ability of the person to operate a vehicle safely.  Keep in mind this is an extremely broad definition.


What are the 7 drug categories for the DRE evaluation?

CNS Depressants – this category is made up of drugs like Clonazepam, Xanax, Soma, Ambien, barbiturates, tranquilizers, methaqualones,  etc…

CNS Stimulants – this category consists of Amphetatmines, Methamphetamine, Cocaine, etc…

Hallucinogens – this is mushrooms, peyote, acid, etc…

Dissociative Anesthetics – PCP, sherm, embalming fluid, etc…

Narcotic Analgesics – heroin, oxycontin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, morphine, roxycontin, etc…

Inhalants – Anesthetic gases, aerosols, volatile gases, gasoline, Freon, dust off, etc…

Cannabis – The Devil’s Lettuce, Weed, Pot, Marijuana, Hashish, oils, wax, etc…

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