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State DUI testing changes could tank local business, double processing times

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BOULDER, Colo. -- When someone gets pulled over and police take a blood sample to test for alcohol or drugs, most Colorado law enforcement agencies send those samples to a private business in Boulder called ChemaTox for processing. However, a sudden change in policy is tanking that business, forcing it to shut down.

“We were never consulted in any way on this massive change to our system,” said Sarah Urfer, the director at ChemaTox.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has three labs across the state to process the tests, and used to charge $30 for alcohol tests and $300 for drug testing blood samples.

“The testing was expensive, and in particular, some of the smaller rural agencies were having trouble with that,” said CBI Director John Camper.

Camper says the state has a mandate to get better data on how drugs like marijuana impact drivers on Colorado roads, and so the CBI started moving around money in the budget so it could provide the service for free. The policy was implemented on July 1. But the change has created a domino effect that has crushed ChemaTox’s business.

“They created a government monopoly. They removed the checks and balances that were in place,” Urfer said. “They put a small business -- a woman-owned business with 15 women in STEM positions -- out of business overnight, and the answer I’m getting is the equivalent of, 'Oops, we tripped and destroyed your entire life.'"

“Shame on us,” Camper said. “We should’ve reached out and done better stakeholder work in the first place. I feel horrible about it. And again, there was no intention to negatively impact anybody’s business.”

Documents from the Joint Budget Committee say the CBI could see an increase of 6,000 cases per year, and wait times for results could run from 25 days to 45-60 days. The longer delay could impact defendants’ constitutional right to a speedy trial. Lawmakers say the problem will get worse if a solution is not found immediately.

“We’re in a hole right now. The first thing we need to do is stop digging,” said State Rep. Jonathan Singer. “Either tests are going to be slowed down, services and public safety is going to be cut down somewhere else or we’re going to have to do a massive cash infusion.”

On Thursday, the CBI said it has enough refrigeration capacity to accept the 10,000 to 12,000 of new samples it will receive when ChemaTox closes.

When asked about how the bureau will handle 8,000 new cases annually, CBI Communications Director Susan Medina said the following via email:

"We continue to make significant progress in developing a plan to tackle the increase in the number of cases submitted to the CBI. Once finalized, we will be certain to share with you."

The CBI also said that while turnaround times for processing samples will increase, it still aims to do so in a timely manner.

Finally, the bureau said only three states still use a fee-for-service model for toxicology testing.

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