Longtime Atkinson police Chief Philip Consentino remembers a time when someone suspected of drunken driving was pulled over and given a simple field sobriety test.
If drivers appeared to be unsteady after getting out of their car and trying to walk, it was a closed case. They were charged with driving while intoxicated.
That was in 1968, shortly after Consentino started with the department. A lot has changed since then with the advent of breath and blood-alcohol tests.
Now, many police departments and the state police forensic laboratory rely on the pinpoint accuracy of a special machine — the Intoxilyzer 5000 EN.
There are 107 of the $6,000 Breathalyzer machines used at police stations throughout New Hampshire, according to lab director Timothy Pifer.
But Pifer said he’s seeing a 10 percent decrease in the use of breath tests each year as more police departments turn to blood tests.
Blood tests can track the use of illicit drugs, but breath tests — even the sophisticated Intoxilyzer 5000 EN — do not.
“It’s not as inclusive,” Pifer said.
Since 2009, the state lab has seen a large increase in users of pharmaceutical drugs, usually painkillers, Pifer said.
Pharmaceuticals have been the second-leading drug detected by blood tests, topped only by marijuana. Only five years ago, pharmaceuticals ranked fourth on the list after marijuana, cocaine and heroin, he said.
“We have become more of a medicated society,” Pfifer said.
The state’s new, tougher DUI law that took effect Jan. 1 specifically targets drivers under the influence of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. The previous law only punished users of alcohol and illicit drugs.
While some local police officials say their departments use breath tests because they are more convenient, others rely on blood tests taken at local hospitals. State law requires any driver involved in a serious accident with injury resulting to submit to a blood test.