FARMINGTON -- Tests for the presence of spice in a person's body are not available in Utah or in most states across the country.
"Spice abuse is a relatively new phenomenon, and we know of only two laboratories in the country that have developed the methodology to test for spice in blood and/or urine," Gambrelli Layco, director of the state's Bureau of Forensic Toxicology, wrote in an email.
Spice is a variety of synthetic cannabinoids. It is illegal in Utah to possess or sell the synthetic cannabinoids, and it is illegal to drive under the influence of any drug, whether legal or illegal.
Police officers and prosecutors said they still can charge someone with driving under the influence of a controlled substance if they suspect the person has been using spice. But because blood tests cannot verify whether spice is specifically found in a person's system, law enforcement usually hopes to get a confession from the driver or find the substance in the vehicle to be able to say, "This person used spice."
If the state opted to test for spice, it would have to come up with its own instruments and testing methods.
But the chemical makeup of spice can be altered as fast as tests can be developed.
"As soon as laboratories develop a testing method for the common three to five cannabinoids being used today, the manufacturers can switch to a different mixture and the current testing methodology would be obsolete," Layco wrote.
That hasn't stopped law enforcement from trying to get people who are driving under the influence of spice off the road.
When officers pull someone over for a traffic violation, they can usually tell when a person has been drinking alcohol because the smell gives it away.
But drugs are not as easy to detect, unless there is evidence in the car, such as the drug itself, which can tell an officer the person may be driving under the influence of a drug.
Centerville Police Lt. Paul Child is one of 200 officers in the state who are certified drug experts.
The officers are trained to conduct comprehensive field sobriety tests that can identify the type of drug being used, such as a depressant, a stimulant or a narcotic analgesic, like heroin or pain relievers, Child said.
But spice has posed its problems, Child said.
"The problem is backing up the field tests with toxicology," Child said. "It's the CSI (TV show) effect. Everyone wants a lab to verify things and that's when you run into trouble."
Child said what has helped officers get drivers using spice off the road is lawmakers who made it illegal in the first place to own or sell.
When spice was first on the market, officers saw more drivers under the influence of spice than they do now, Child said.
Recently, a 53-year-old woman was sentenced for misdemeanors for driving under the influence of spice. She was originally charged with the third-degree felony of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs because it was the third time she had been arrested in the past 10 years for a DUI.
Deputy Davis County Attorney Nathan Lyon said this was the first case of driving under the influence of spice that his office has prosecuted. Generally, DUI spice cases are class B misdemeanors and are prosecuted in the justice courts.
Prosecutors were unable to determine through blood testing what type of drugs were in her system at the time of her arrest, even though she admitted to the arresting officer that she had smoked spice two hours earlier.
Under a plea bargain, the woman was allowed to plead to lesser charges.
Mike Junk, Ogden city attorney, said he has seen only a few spice DUIs.
Those drivers are usually charged with driving "with a measurable amount of a controlled substance," in their bodies, Junk said.
Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, who has championed the spice bills in previous legislative sessions, is working with the state Crime Lab and public safety agencies to improve Utah's law banning spice.
He also is attending a national conference this summer at which he hopes to learn what other states are doing to keep the public roads safe from drivers who use spice.
But any law that deals with spice, Froerer said, "will have to have a constant update" because those who make it are making huge profits.
It takes just one change in the chemical composition to circumvent laws and tests, he said.
"My main emphasis is going to be -- and the best approach is -- to keep it off the streets and out of the hands of the people who are smoking it."