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Drug Testing – Which Test and When?


All too often, the Court is required to consider parenting arrangements in circumstances where there are a host of drug and alcohol abuse allegations. This often results in the Court ordering alcohol and drug tests to determine the validity of such allegations and the extent of abuse (if any). In these cases, it is important for the Court, and the party requesting such testing, to know what test to request in the circumstances. There are also limitations to testing which need to be considered by the parties and the Court.

Testing of Illicit Substances

The consumption of illicit substances can be tested via a urine sample or through a hair follicle test. A urine sample will only show evidence of consumption of an illegal drug if recently consumed and such substance remains in the person’s body.

For the testing of chronic drug abuse, it may be more appropriate to request a hair follicle test. This will examine the test subject’s consumption of illicit substances over a period of time, depending on the length of the hair sample.

Limitations of Hair testing including:-

  • The test can be quite expensive;
  • The test may not show any illicit substance used within the prior 3 to 4 weeks as such consumption has not reached the root of the test subject’s hair follicle;
  • The time covered by the testing may also be an issue particularly if the person who is to be tested has a shaved head or minimal hair from which to take a sample; and
  • Hair Follicle testing is used from chronic users of illicit substances and may not be appropriate to determine whether a person has “experimented” or had a single use of an illegal drug.

Testing of Alcohol Abuse

There are a number of blood tests which can be used to determine consumption of alcohol. A Carbohydrate-deficient Transferrin Test (“CDT”) can be ordered to determine whether a person is a chronic consumer of alcohol. People who often binge on alcohol will usually have a change in their protein levels which can be indicative of chronic consumption of alcohol. Another blood test that can be prescribed is a Gamma Glutamyl Transferase Test (“GGT”) which tests a party’s liver function. People who consume alcohol regularly, may experience liver disease. The downside of this test is that a party who does not “binge drink” may still produce results indicative of liver function issues or liver disease. This test is therefore not conclusive in respect to chronic alcohol consumption. The CDT and GGT tests are not designed to test people for complete abstinence from alcohol, but can be useful in proving whether a person is a chronic consumer of alcohol.

If complete abstinence is required, a further test known as Ethyl Glucuronide may be appropriate in determining whether a party has consumed alcohol within the past 90 hours. The downside of this test is that it requires the accused party to submit to regular testing (every 3 to 4 days) in order to ensure complete abstinence. This can be onerous and expensive for that party.

As you can see, there are a number of alcohol and drug tests which exist, all of which have limitations. Knowing what you are looking for is key to determining which test you require or wish to seek from the Court. It is also important to know the limitations of the testing so that appropriate Orders can be drafted. If you wish to discuss your family law matter and any issues in respect to drug and alcohol consumption please do not hesitate to contact one of our team members here at Armstrong Legal.

Image Credit – Angellodeco © 123RF.com

Written by Anne-Louise Pham on June 15, 2017

Anne-Louise has a passion for complex parenting matters and she has worked with clients in matters involving issues such as domestic violence, drug addiction and relocation. She has also represented clients in other complex matters involving the welfare of children. View Anne's profile


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