SCRAM bracelet is the antithesis of bling

But sobriety monitor is being worn by the rich and famous

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The hot celebrity accessory this season isn't a small dog, Marc Jacobs bag or Jimmy Choo shoes.

   

Graphic: Ankle informant

   

It's a SCRAM bracelet, the booze-sniffing accessory that's a sobriety statement, not a fashion statement.

The chunky black bracelets were spotted on the ankles of rapper Eve, former "Lost" star Michelle Rodriguez and "30 Rock" star Tracy Morgan after they were arrested on drunken driving charges.

And Lindsay Lohan, the wild child actress, has been voluntarily wearing the bracelet -- sometimes nicknamed the "dranklet" -- to show her pledge of sobriety after a May drunken driving arrest.

Touted as a tool to keep heavy drinkers sober by monitoring them 24/7, the SCRAM -- or Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor -- bracelet apparently wasn't enough to keep Ms. Lohan from a partying relapse. She was rearrested early yesterday morning on charges of drunken driving and possessing a controlled substance after a car chase in a parking lot in Santa Monica, Calif.

Celebrities aren't the only ones wearing bracelets with sensors that detect alcohol-spiked sweat -- the pungent odor that sticks to the clothes of a drinker and trips the sensors in SCRAM.

Some 40,000 people in the United States have been tracked by SCRAM bracelets since they were introduced in 2003 by Colorado-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems Inc.

Allegheny County probation officials are exploring the possibility of using the bracelets but have not yet made a decision.

Washington County has been slapping the bracelets on the ankles of some offenders for the past year and a half to make sure they stay teetotallers.

"We use SCRAM for people who are sneaking," said Jon Ridge, assistant chief probation officer for Washington County. "Doing urine tests with alcohol is hit or miss. In 12 hours it is gone. Sometimes, three or four hours. In my opinion, SCRAM is the most effective way to deter alcohol use."

SCRAM bracelets monitor the alcohol level in sweat at least once an hour. Using wireless technology, a base station in the wearer's home downloads data from the bracelet and then transmits the data by modem to the company. The company places the information on a Web site, where it can be accessed by local law enforcement officials.

Many people have to wear them for 30 to 90 days, but a Texas man who killed a child in a drunken driving incident was ordered to wear one for 10 years, a company spokeswoman said.

If someone tampers with the bracelet -- for example, by trying to wrap it in plastic -- the action triggers an alarm to the company.

The fact that a SCRAM wearer such as Ms. Lohan was rearrested doesn't mean the device didn't work, Mr. Ridge said. It is continuous monitoring, not instantaneous.

"It would have caught her drinking once she downloaded the information. She just didn't get that far," he said.

Her attorney, Blair Berk, issued this statement yesterday:

"Addiction is a terrible and vicious disease. Since Lindsay transitioned to outpatient care, she has been monitored on a SCRAM bracelet and tested daily in order to support her sobriety. ... Unfortunately, I was informed Lindsay had relapsed. The bracelet now has been removed. She is safe, out of custody and presently receiving medical care."

In Washington County, some people are monitored by SCRAM instead of serving jail time and others sport it as part of a court-ordered treatment program. The wearer is charged the $12-a-day cost and the $50 to $100 installation fee.

"Some people love it. They say they want it on. They say, 'I need this,' " Mr. Ridge said. "Some people hate it."

One woman was so mortified by the tracking bracelet that she covered it with a piece of cloth.

"She didn't want anyone to see it. She didn't want her kids to see it," he said. "It was the stigma."

Ms. Rodriguez was definitely in the detest-the-bracelet camp. The actress slammed it as a "VCR dog tag" when she was forced to wear one after drunken driving incidents. Then she mocked the criminal fashion statement by wearing a fake ankle bracelet bearing the name "Orwell" to the Marc Jacobs show at Fashion Week in New York in February.

Obviously, rich celebrities have no problems paying the daily $10 to $12 fee. But the price is one factor that Allegheny County is weighing in making its decision on whether to start using SCRAM bracelets.

"[Non-celebrities] have a lot of financial obligations, paying for court costs and treatment," said Ron Domis, manager of Allegheny County Adult Probation.

But he said the bracelet fits the change in philosophy that says coerced treatment often helps alcoholics.

But Rich Tacaks, component service director at Mercy Behavioral Health, said, "It is really more of a law enforcement tool than a treatment tool."

It is not going to stop you if you go back to the clubs.

"Addiction is a very strong illness and disease," he said.


Cristina Rouvalis can be reached at crouvalis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1572.


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