8 Common Issues Faced By Drug Court Systems for Drug Testing
According to Jerome Robinson and James Jones in their study entitled Drug Testing in a Drug Court Environment: Common Issues to Address, drug testing is considered as one of the most important parts of a drug court's program operation. With this, drug courts are expected to rely on how accurate the entire drug testing process will go and how reliable the results will be from such tests.1
The drug testing process in the drug court systems come with issues though. The most common of them are the following:
1. The need for a reliable witness
It is the drug court system's duty to ensure that there is adequate staffing in the course of drug testing. Adequate staffing would mean having reliable witnesses that will help strengthen results of these tests. A lay-witness, for one, will be called by the courts to testify using objective facts. In another, an expert witness will be asked to share his specialized knowledge to make sure the test results are valid.
When an opinion testimony is given by a lay witness, however, the testimony is limited to the witnesses' perception. Although this can be helpful in determining a fact associated with the issue, it cannot be totally reliable in that it is not scientific, technical or coming from a specialized knowledge. This is the reason behind why expert witnesses are also crucial in drug courts.2
2. Maintaining integrity of samples
The reliability of a drug testing process in drug court systems depend upon the integrity of the samples. There are cases when these samples can be adulterated and this can defeat the results. It is then recommended for the courts to ensure that effective techniques are in place. It is also suggested that the courts should follow a chain of custody that includes functions from the reporting of the client for testing up to the recording of the results. All these steps can affect the reliability of the results obtained from the test.
There are many reasons by which a chain of custody is considered important in drug court systems. Remember that court-rendered judgments that have been based on compromised and unreliable evidences would certainly undermine the legal system's integrity. In order to prove that the evidence is reliable, the proof of a chain of custody should be required by courts.3
3. Adulteration of samples
Apart from the need to maintain the samples' integrity, it is also imperative for drug court systems to make sure that drug test samples are free from adulteration. In many cases though, there are certain techniques that clients may use to adulterate the specimen thus leading to erroneous reading of results. One such technique is to dilute a sample in the aim to lower the visible drug levels in a urine specimen.4
With the presence of an adulteration detection process, there will be a way by which staff will be alerted of the common methods employed by clients to adulterate these results. That possible detection will make them take necessary precautions as to reading the results from different types of samples.
4. Lack of appropriate drug testing frequency
Appropriate drug testing frequency is one that is dependent upon on available resources, drug testing methodologies and the drug characteristics. There are different policies that courts develop when it comes to the frequency of these tests. These are classified further into phases where the first phase can require testing twice weekly and then the second phase would require weekly testing. These phases will vary depending on court requirements and that would mean lack of appropriate testing frequency for the drug court.
Appropriate drug testing frequency can help determine whether a subject has abstained from drug or alcohol for a certain period of time. Court-ordered testing is said to be essential then. The presence of an accurate frequency testing program is considered the most efficient and objective way to develop an accountability framework and to monitor the progress of each participant.5
5. Confirmation testing is performed in very few instances
Most drug court programs perform confirmation testing only in very few instances. This is due to the fact that the real purpose of drug testing in these courts is to monitor how one progresses in terms of treatment. Performing a confirmation test is crucial most specifically when there is a need to sanction an individual for positive results. With the high volume of drug tests that these courts conduct, it is recommended that drug courts should be able to develop and implement confirmation testing.
6. Maintaining the integrity of specimens for retesting purposes
As crucial as confirmation testing is maintaining the integrity of specimens that will be retested. Alongside this, specimens are expected to be stored in acceptable temperatures, usually about 2 to 8 degrees Celsius. In cases when specimens need to be stored for longer than one week, required temperature would be -20 degrees Celsius.
7. The emergence of spiking situations
Spiking is an incident where the drug levels in urine may increase due to a corresponding change in drug concentration levels. This can be affected by the participant's metabolic factors and are considered crucial in interpreting drug test results. Metabolic factors would include physical activity of participants that can eventually make the urine more concentrated. There are cases too when spiking can occur after using some chemicals or adulterants.6
8. A whole lot of other legal issues
Legal issues come with the criminal justice system when it comes to drug testing. This includes issues such as constitutional right to due process that can be affected by several technical aspects linked to the drug testing procedure employed. In here, the question about the accuracy of results is brought up in order to prove drug use. Reliability of test results can also be questioned as to whether or not it can be used to impose disciplinary action on the participant. Such legal issues are not that difficult to address but when the drug court will fail to address them, its integrity will also be compromised.7