What does it mean when an officer says he is a DRE?

In Washington State, Drug Recognition Experts, also known as DREs are regular law enforcement officer’s who have received additional training to recognize impaired drivers who are under the influence of drugs other than, or in addition to alcohol.

In the 1970’s the Los Angeles Police Department developed the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program (DECP). The purpose of the program was to train officers on how to determine whether a driver is under the influence of drugs, and then to determine the type of drug causing the impairment. Washington State adopted the program in 1996 and currently has approximately 230 active DREs. While individual agency policies can vary on when specifically a DRE will be called, they generally investigate major collisions and when officers suspect drug involvement.

DREs trained in the program are taught to recognize the behavior and physiological effects associated with seven categories of psychoactive drugs: (1) central nervous system (CNS) depressants, (2) inhalants, (3) phencyclidine (PCP), (4) cannabis, (5) CNS stimulants, (6) hallucinogens, and (7) narcotic analgesics.

To be certified as a DRE, an officer only needs to complete a 2 weeklong training course taught by a trained DRE instructor and receive a passing score of 75% or higher on the certification test. Using a 12-step procedure based on a variety of observable signs and symptoms DREs will look for clues to attempt to figure out what type of drug, if any, is affecting you. They will test among other things, your reaction to light, nystagmus, and pupil size, physical balance, motor skills and divided attention. In order for a DREs testimony to be admissible as “expert” testimony in court, all 12-steps must be completed. DREs are required to maintain a “progress log” of all drug evaluations conducted and receive updated training every two years.

However, it is important to note that DREs are not physicians, pharmacologists, or toxicologists and receive no medical training. In fact, a court in Maryland recently excluded DRE evidence and held that identification and classification by DREs “is not generally accepted as valid and reliable in the relevant scientific community.” DREs are not drug-testing machines and will never take the place of a blood test, moreover DREs in making their observations

If you have questions regarding a DRE Expert on a currently pending DUI charge, you may want to discuss your circumstances with a Criminal law attorney.  We would be honored if you chose to contact Blair & Kim, PLLC.


State v. Baity, 140 Wash.2d 1 (2000).

The Seattle Times, “Impaired driver beware: You’re not fooling police” August 7,2013.

Washington State Patrol, “DRE Instructor Manual” May 2013

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