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County Executive's Office

Dane County Goes High Tech to Monitor, Assess Recovery of Repeat Drunk Drivers

March 24, 2010
Joshua Wescott, Office of the County Executive (608) 267-8823 or cell (608) 669-5606
County Executive

“Biomarker” Tests Debuted to Ensure Accountability of Alcohol Offenders

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and Dr. Pamela Bean will announce a new initiative Wednesday, intended to improve the screening, treatment and rehabilitation of repeat drunk drivers.

Beginning this month, a new test called “biomarkers” is being used to better screen and monitor repeat drunk drivers going through state-required assessments after being arrested for a 3rd offense or higher OWI (operating while intoxicated) charge.  Dane County has provided $15,000 in funding to get the new “biomarker” initiative started.  The county has designated the Mental Health Center of Dane County to do the assessments.   

Unlike more conventional evaluations that may only be able to determine if someone has used alcohol in the past 24 hours, the alcohol “biomarker” blood tests show if someone has been drinking heavily in recent weeks.  That improves the ability of treatment staff to determine if offenders are successfully rehabilitating and meeting state requirements that must be achieved before they’re eligible to regain their drivers’ licenses.

“Through science we can make sure repeat offenders are truly recovering and reforming their ways,” County Executive Kathleen Falk said.  “This proven technology means better accountability of individuals with drinking problems and safer roads.”

Falk noted 52% of the sentenced inmates in the Dane County jail are there for driving drunk.

The “biomarker” test, pioneered by Dr. Bean, has been utilized as part of a pilot-project in Waukesha County.  Testing there found 34% (one-in-three) repeat drunk driving offenders in treatment continued to drink heavily after being arrested for OWI and 20% relapsed to heavy drinking while in treatment.  Many of those who tested positive for alcohol in their system (68%) had denied to treatment staff that they had drank any alcohol before their assessments.  After being presented with the results of the “biomarker” tests, 80% of those who tested positive returned to abstinence or reduced their drinking.

“We’re making Wisconsin the model state in the country to use these new tools to identify high risk offenders,” Dr. Bean said.  “Cheaper than interlock devices, biomarkers help us allocate rehabilitation resources more efficiently to those who need the help most.”

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