Whether within private family law matters or care proceedings many clients have to undertake substance misuse tests for drug and alcohol use at the direction of the Court. These tests are generally undertaken at our offices and take less than an hour. We arrange the appointment with one of several reputable testing laboratories whose trained collectors complete the test.

There are many reasons why a Court orders a client to be tested for alcohol consumption or illegal substance misuse. If a client has a history of drug use a substance misuse test can provide the Court with a month-by-month breakdown of their usage and can positively show reduction or cessation in drug use. Although the prospect of a positive drugs test may seem entirely detrimental to a client’s case, the implications of refusal to undertake the test when ordered by the Court could lead to an assumption that a client’s drug usage is high.

A Judge will order the amount of time to be considered and tested and for which drugs. These are broken down into specific categories, for example opiates, amphetamines, cocaine, and cannabis.

Hair testing uniquely profiles drug use over a period of months. By sampling a 6 cm length of hair, usually head hair, the laboratory can provide a 6 month profile of drug use or abstinence. By analysing the hair in monthly lengths, the laboratory can detect trends in substance use, for example increasing or decreasing use or the self reporting of one-off incidences of use can be supported.

If head hair is not long enough to cover the period of time in question, then an overall picture of drug use can be profiled from testing body hair.

Each hair follicle has its own blood supply which provides the hair with nutrients to grow. When a drug is taken by an individual it is absorbed into the blood stream, so as the hair grows the drugs from the blood supply are incorporated into the hair follicle and can remain there permanently.

The consumption of alcohol may also be tested by having both a hair strand test and a blood test. The hair is tested for metabolites called alcohol markers (FAEE and EtG). FAEE is created from the reaction the body has to alcohol use, predominantly in blood and tissue and is believed to be incorporated into the hair via sebum on the surface of the skin. EtG is formed in the liver and is thought to be incorporated into the hair mainly via sweat.

Blood tests for alcohol consumption are often used alongside hair strand tests to test for liver function and aid in the detection of chronic alcohol consumption. When the liver is damaged by chronic excessive alcohol consumption there will be markers in the blood stream allowing this to be detected. These blood tests are mainly done in conjunction with the hair strand tests to build a wider picture to ascertain chronic excessive alcohol use.

Results are usually provided within 10 workings days and an analytical report provided by the laboratory interpreting the results for Court purposes.

Lucy Shepherd

Creighton & Partners

July 2013