2. The substance test and test results

The substance testing of parents is not always an accurate or reliable means of monitoring parental substance misuse or abuse - urine samples may be tampered with, certain drugs will only be detected if the frequency of testing is adequate. In addition, it cannot be assumed that once parents resolve their substance misuse issues, they will be able to meet the child’s protection and care needs - particularly if other risk factors, for example, mental health issues are contributing to the child being in need of protection.

2.1 Information about the test 

Substance testing is a process which incorporates two steps:

  • the screening test provides a quick process for establishing whether a substance, or class of substance, is likely to be present in a given sample, and
  • the confirmation test is a second test on the same sample in circumstances where the screening test provides a non-reassuring result.

Where applicable, substance testing will occur by urinalysis (urine testing), unless another method of testing is already being undertaken as part of a parents ATODS treatment plan, or otherwise recommended by ATODS.

There are three levels of supervised collection (Level 1, 2 or 3) which are consistent with the Australian and New Zealand standards. Level 1 requires direct visualisation of the urine stream from the urethra to the container at all times. Level 2 requires the supervisor to stand within the cubicle or collection room alongside the person while the sample is being passed. Level 3 requires the person to remove outer heavy clothing and empty pockets prior to entering the collection cubicle and the supervisor waits outside while the urine is being passed.

Level 3 is the minimum acceptable level of supervision, with levels 1 and 2 going beyond this standard. Level 1 and 2 are generally reserved for situations where there is a high likelihood of the parent attempting to tamper with, or substitute, the urine prior to the container being sealed. 

Departmental staff may request that the collection of a urine sample is observed by a medical practitioner or paramedical staff under the direction of a medical practitioner, to reduce possibility of contamination or substitution.

Under no circumstances is a departmental officer to observe the provision of a urine sample.

A confirmation test is used to confirm the results of the screening test which eliminates false positive findings. The confirmation test will also characterise the type of substance, differentiating over-the-counter and prescription substances from illicit drugs. The test will provide an indication of the amount of substance present in the sample which will inform whether the parent’s stated use is consistent with the confirmation test results.

Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Services

ATODS provides information, clinical assessment, counselling, treatment and referral with a range of alcohol and other drug related problems. ATODS offer a range of activities about health promotion and the training of professionals on the management of substance misuse, abuse and dependence.

ATODS will provide the departmental officer with general advice, information on current treatment plans with a parent and consult with the Drugs of Dependence Unit (DDU) at the request of the senior practitioner, if necessary.

Where the parent is engaged with ATODS or other related service, the development of the testing schedule will occur in consultation with that service.

Drugs of Dependence Unit

The DDU minimises the harm to the public from inappropriate use of controlled drugs by providing a monitoring, investigative, enquiry and research service. The DDU monitors the prescription of methadone and buprenorphine within the Queensland Opioid Treatment Program.

If during the course of intervention by the department, it becomes apparent that the DDU may hold information in relation to a parent, contact the local ATODS to discuss the circumstances, including possible information held by the DDU in relation to the parent. Following this discussion, decide whether to proceed with a request to ATODS for ATODS to contact the DDU for information about the parent.   

2.2 Substance test results

Initial test (screening test) results will either provide a negative result or a non-negative result. The term ‘non-negative’ is used to signify a result which requires further testing.

A non-negative initial test result will not stand up to legal scrutiny. If the finding is potentially significant and further action is considered, the sample must undergo confirmation testing. Tests which have been confirmed are generally accepted without challenge in courts.

The pathology which undertook the substance testing of the parent will provide advice and assistance with interpreting test results where required.

2.3 Substance test results as evidence in court proceedings

Courts only accept and recognise results of tests where tests are conducted in accordance with the 'Australian/New Zealand Standard™, Procedures for the collection, detection and quantification of drugs of abuse in urine' (the standard).

Where possible, the parent is to attend Queensland Medical Laboratories (QML) Pathology or Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology (SNP) collection centres, both of which are certified to conduct substance testing in accordance with the standard.

Where the parent does not have access to a QML or SNP collection centre, consult with the team leader. If necessary, contact the Commercial Accounts Liaison, QML by telephone on
(07) 3121 4515 to discuss whether alternative accredited collection centres are available, for example, in rural and remote areas. Queensland Health is unable to comply with the standard for the collection or analysis of samples.

Director of Forensic Medicine

The Director of Forensic Medicine provides clinical forensic medical services including the examination of victims of crime and alleged offenders, toxicological advice to the Coroner and courts in relation to suspicious deaths and appears in court to give expert advice.

Where the outcomes of court proceedings are reliant on substance test results, confer with the senior practitioner about whether consultation should occur with the Director of Forensic Medicine, Queensland Health by telephone on (07) 3405 5742.