Will Wisconsin Add Biomarkers To Its Anti-OWI Arsenal?

There are two types of OWI offenders, say police officers and alcohol counselors. One type of offender is frightened, upset, immediately repentant after the arrest, and unlikely to reoffend. These people are “scared straight” by the justice system, and they know enough to change their behavior.

LifeSafer Ignition Interlock JurisdictionThe other type, with whom police and treatment personnel are all too familiar, are the repeat offenders. They might want to stop drunk driving but can’t manage on their own, or they might simply believe that they can drive impaired without impunity. Either way, they pose a grave danger, and OWI programs often focus on them.

Two of the most successful techniques for dealing with repeat offenders, especially when combined, are ignition interlocks and OWI courts. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. An OWI court is a judicially supervised program combining comprehensive intervention, treatment, counseling, and monitoring designed to change the behavior of drunk drivers by getting them to take responsibility for their actions.

bloodWisconsin has an interlock program, and OWI courts exist in some counties, but the state is considering another technique to discourage repeat OWI offenders: biomarkers. Common in Europe, biomarker testing consists of taking samples of fingernails or blood and looking for molecular evidence alcohol abuse. Unlike a standard breath or blood test, a biomarker test can detect heavy drinking weeks or even months after the fact.

Programs are being tested in Dane and Waukesha counties, with encouraging results.

Will biomarker testing help treatment of alcohol abusers? Absolutely. But it is not a stand-alone solution. Biomarkers can verify that an offender is staying off alcohol. OWI courts can monitor treatment and help offenders stay on the right side of the law. And ignition interlocks are society’s assurance that the offender will not take to the road while drunk. By restoring an individual’s mobility, they also make it easier for him or her to stay in treatment.

To sum up: biomarkers keep offenders honest. OWI courts help them change their behavior. And ignition interlocks protect everyone on the roads and streets. Together they look like the winning combination that will reduce alcohol-related road deaths and help more addicts turn their lives around.