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Drug testing

Information about the kinds of drug testing that can be ordered and the possible consequences for child contact if a test is positive.

Court power to order drug testing

Family law courts have very broad powers to make restraining orders. When exercising discretion, the court must have regard to the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration.

An order restraining drug use or requiring drug testing cannot be a non-conditional order. That is, the injunction must be linked to a condition of contact or residence.

The power to make a party attend for the purposes of drug testing is found the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)

See ss. 65D(1), 67ZC, 68B, 114—Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)(opens in a new window).

Precedent orders for drug testing

There are precedent orders for drug testing on the VLA intranet under the heading 'Precedent orders and drug testing'

See Practice resources—Family law resources—Alcohol and drugs(opens in a new window)

Understanding drug testing and toxicology reports

What family lawyers need to know about drug testing and toxicology reports provides key information about the options of urine testing, hair testing and testing for alcohol.

See Drug testing and toxicology: What family layers need to know about drug testing in Download materials.

Urine drug testing

Analysis of a urine sample is usually carried out in two stages. The first stage involves a screening test with a series of antibodies that bind to specific classes of drugs. Drug classes often tested for include opiates, cannabinoids, sympathomimetic amines, cocaine, benzodiazepines and barbiturates.

National and international standards define the drug level that is considered a positive test. These levels vary from drug to drug. If the drug level in urine exceeds the cut off level then it is reported as 'positive' or 'detected'. A level below the cut off level is reported as 'not detected' or 'negative'.

The screening test does not necessarily reveal which specific drug is present. A positive response may be caused by one or more drugs that are chemically similar and belong to the family of drugs being looked for. More sophisticated and expensive techniques are required to determine the specific drug or drugs that may be causing a positive screening test.

The second or confirmatory stage uses the advanced technique of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to specifically identify which drug is present. The drug level may also be quantified or semi-quantified using this technique.
In some situations testing may stop after the first screening stage. This can occur if all the screening test results are negative or if the requesting authority does not require confirmatory tests. Laboratories can have their own policies about when confirmatory GC-MS is performed on a urine drug screen sample.

Costs of standard supervised urine testing screens

No bulk billing is possible as Medicare does not cover the testing if court ordered.

See Community Offender Advice and Treatment Service(COATs)—Urine drug screens (pdf, 565 KB)(opens in a new window)

Drug screening centres

The VLA professional support intranet pages have a list of drug screening centres.

Note: This is only available to VLA staff. Please contact Helen Askew if you would like a copy of this information.

See 'Drug screening centres' in Practice resources—Family law resources—Alcohol and drugs(opens in a new window).

Hair follicle testing

Australian Workplace Drug Testing Services (AWDTS) are advertising they can do forensic hair drug testing from $220 per sample with results within 1–2 weeks. AWDTS say they can perform hair testing Australia wide, test for up to 23 different drugs and metabolites and a sample shows up to 3 months history.

Phone 1300 Drug Test (1300 378 483) or email info@awdts.com.au

See 'Government of South Australia—Hair Drug Testing information sheet' in Download materials.

How long will testing detect substances for after use stops?

This varies according to the kind of testing done, the concentration and type of drug that is tested for and the health of the person who is tested.

For 'Approximate values for drug detection periods under references', see Download materials.

Proving a former long-term user is clean

If a client is a long term user and has stopped using but it still testing positive they can contact Dr Kenneth Sikaris of Melbourne Pathology.

Limitations of drug testing

There are limitations on drug testing including that:

  • it takes time for the specimen to be collected, processed and analysed, and so may take several days to produce a comprehensive report
  • testing cannot measure the level of impairment from drug use
  • testing cannot tell whether a drug was smoked, ingested, or injected
  • drugs which have been prescribed by a registered medical practitioner will also be detected if they are in an appropriate category. So for example: codeine, morphine, Valium will show up in the test results
  • testing will not tell:
    • how long ago a drug was taken
    • how much was taken, or
    • how long it will remain detectable in urine

This is because the excretion patterns and kinetics are variable and can be affected by many factors. Variables include concentration of the urine sample, amount and frequency of drug use, degree of drug absorption, degree and rate of metabolism, body size and how well the person's kidneys and liver are functioning.

See Melbourne Pathology—Strengths and weaknesses of drug testing(opens in a new window).

More information

Legislation

Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)

  • s. 65D(1)—court's power to make a sentencing order
  • s. 67ZC—orders relating to the welfare of children
  • s. 68B—injunctions in relation to children
  • s. 114—court power to order injunctions relating to matrimonial causes

See Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)(opens in a new window).

References

VLA PLE resources

This lecture, delivered by Brad Pearce, Victorian Alcohol and Drugs Authority on 8 August 2012, looks at drug screening and treatment options that are available to assist parents with alcohol or drug use.

See PLE resources—Alcohol and drugs: impacts on risk to children and families(opens in a new window).

Please contact Helen Askew if you need this information presented in an accessible format.

Melbourne Pathology

This powerpoint, delivered by Dr Alan McNeil, Chemical Pathologist, Melbourne Pathology in August 2014 explains the procedures for drug testing and the limitations of these tests.

See Melbourne Pathology—Strengths and weaknesses of drug testing(opens in a new window).

Download materials

Hair drug testing information sheet (pdf, 52 KB)(opens in a new window)

An information sheet published by the South Australian Attorney General's Department which explains how the tests are done, the costs involved and the kinds of drugs that can be tested using this method.

Drug testing and toxicology: What family lawyers need to know about drug testing and toxicology reports (pdf, 135 KB)(opens in a new window)

A paper by Dr Michael Robertson, Clinical and Forensic Toxicologist at Independent Forensic Consulting.

Approximate values for detection periods (doc, 52 KB)(opens in a new window)

Information about the length of time that drugs can be detected in a person's system.

Updated