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Local News Summary of November, 9th

  • Unreliable new drug test can be triggered by caffeine pills
  • Baselland government against sale of cantonal hospital

Unreliable new drug test can be triggered by caffeine pills

The newest generation of drug tests is currently doing the rounds in Switzerland and Basel, and it is not very popular; the tests have been known to activate even when no drugs have been consumed. Desite this, it may result in the loss of one’s driver’s license. 

It has been three weeks since student Michael T. from Liestal moved into his own flat - dealing with studies, his job, and his private life all at once. There was so much going on in the young man’s life that he took a caffeine pill every evening to stay awake through a challenging time. The caffeine tablets he took were totally legal, and can be bought in every pharmacy without a prescription. One evening, after a long day in the office, the student brought a few items to his new flat in Basel.

It was shortly after midnight when the young student was driving in his car to Liestal. At Steinenschanze, he was stopped by a police patrol. “They flashed a light in my face and demanded I took an alcohol test,” Michael T. remembered. But when the test was negative, the police also wanted to do a quick drug test. “Of course, I was willing to take the test,” he said, adding: “I have never taken any drugs before and therefore had nothing to fear.” However, he was wrong. 

Escorted to blood test in a police van

The shock came shortly after: According to the police, the drug test was positive. The student was searched, and a drug detection dog checked out the car. Nothing was found. Michael T. assured the police officers repeatedly that he had consumed neither medicine nor drugs. “Of course, I mentioned the caffeine pills,” he says. But the police ignored any further comments. The end of the line: The young man lost his driver’s license immediately, and his car was confiscated while he was still talking to the police.

By now, there were six police officers at the scene. “I told them that there must have been a mistake,” Michael T. said. He slowly began to feel uncomfortable. Consequently, he was taken to the emergency department of the university hospital for a blood and urine test. Further tests followed: A doctor examined Michael T., and he had to prove his sobriety again and again in various balancing exercises.

Pale skin and dilated pupils

“I got home at about 3am,” Michael T. remembered. He remained without a driver’s license and was suspected of driving under the influence of drugs. “Even though I was innocent, I felt like a criminal,” he said. Martin Schütz, spokesperson for the Justice and Security Department of Basel-Stadt, explained: “The quick drug test is employed by the cantonal police of Basel-Stadt if there are clues or the suspicion of drug consumption.” In the case of Michael T., the officers had noticed pale skin and dilated pupils in their torches.

Public transportation instead of car

Twelve hours after the incident, the addiction agency of the cantonal police became involved and examined all the data. Michael T. had to confirm several times that the caffeine pills he had taken can be bought in every pharmacy in town without a prescription. 

Over the following two weeks, he did not receive any further information and his driver’s license remained with the local authorities. “I have no problem with using public transport,” the wrongly accused man said, adding: “But if I had to use a car for my job, there would have been serious problems.” 

No absolute certainty

In response to such insecurity, numerous Swiss media outlets have published articles about an increase in the number of cases of inaccurate drug tests. “The quick drug tests provide no absolute certainty and do not offer hard evidence. They provide clues,” Martin Schütz states. The error rate is between 1 and 5 per cent. Blood and urine tests provide conclusive results. But the officers in their cars can only shake their heads about the current situation. According to police officers on duty who were approached by (names known to the editors), this is a different matter to them: The new quick drug test is anything but reliable, they say.

Only two weeks after the incident, Michael T. received a letter from the police containing his driver’s license. The blood test had been negative. The only things missing: An apology and compensation.


Baselland government against sale of cantonal hospital

The government of Baselland is against the sell-off of the cantonal hospital of Baselland (KSBL).  Its members instead believe that a cooperative health plan and the formation of a hospital group with the canton of Basel-Stadt is the best option for the future. 

In its response to several parliamentary petitions on Wednesday, the Government said the direct influence of the canton on the hospital would end if it were to be privatisated. However, the canton sought also to reassure the public that they would continues to have access to all the necessary hospital services required.

The government added further that a potential buyer of the KSBL would take over the hospital in the hope of gaining a corresponding performance mandate. Besides the supply of medical equipment and other amenities, the owner’s rights would therefore have to be analysed prior to a private takeover. 

Regulations such as providing medical services at several locations for regional political reasons could potentially diminish the hospital’s net worth. If the proprietor’s role was given up entirely, the currently bad economic status of the KSBL could result in amortisations in the sum of hundreds of millions of Swiss francs, the government claimed.

Plans for general discussion in the parliament

With this decision not to sell the hospital, the government aims to open up a general discussion about the KSBL’s future in the parliament. This is expected to happen before any debate about the treaties for a cooperative health plan and hospital group with the canton of Basel-Stadt. Apart from the options of “selling” and “cooperation with third parties”, the report also shows the chance and risk of a continued solo running of the KSBL.

The “optimisation in a solo run” has already been analysed by the management board of the KSBL as an “Option B”. Following this option, ambulance and in-patient services would if feasible be focussed at a singular location in order to avoid double bookings. The services would be mostly the same as those in a cooperative hospital management, the government stated.

Fear of “arms race” in a solo effort

With the solo-effort option, the government of Baselland fears the development of an “arms race” between the KSBL and the university hospital of Basel-Stadt (USB). There would be further overcapacity, which in turn would have to be financed with increased premiums and taxes, the government claimed. They added that the optimisation process of the KSBL "could furthermore cause a loss in patients to private doctors or the USB".

The government instead sees the biggest improvement potential in planning and regulation rather than in ownership, and wants to approach this potential together with Basel-Stadt. This includes examinations about possible separation of hospital services. 

The treaties for a cross-canton cooperative health plan and hospital group are expected to be signed at the beginning of February 2018. The new hospital group is planned to be put into operation in 2020.

The KSBL was founded in 2012 as a public hospital in a merger of the hospitals of Liestal, Bruderholz, and Laufen, which had been integrated in the Baselbiet cantonal administration before. The KSBL is owned entirely by the canton.