What does a drug test report look like?

Marie Law Alphabiolabs

By Marie Law, Head of Toxicology at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 13/09/2022

Drug tests remain a fundamental part of family court proceedings, especially in instances where the safety of a child is paramount.

Once hair, nail, urine, and/or oral fluid samples have been collected by a trained clinician under chain of custody conditions, testing can begin at the laboratory, and the Reporting Scientist will collate the results into a clear, concise document that can be easily interpreted in court.

But how easy is it to interpret a drug test report? And what can’t be learnt from the results?

In this article, we look at the different types of court-approved drug test, how drug test results are reported, and what can (and can’t) be learnt from a drug test report.

Table of contents
  • What happens in the body when a person consumes drugs?
  • What are the different types of drug test for court?
  • How are drug test results reported?
  • What will a drug test report show?
  • What can’t be learnt from a drug test report?
  • What is Drug Screen Plus?
  • Where can I get a drug test for court?

What happens in the body when a person consumes drugs?

When a person consumes drugs, they are broken down by the liver, and a proportion of the drug and its metabolites are released into the bloodstream.

Some of the drug and its metabolites can then be detected in the body in different ways including via sweat, urine, saliva, hair and nails.

In the case of hair and nails, a proportion of the drug and its metabolites travel to the blood vessels in the scalp and nail bed.

Substances then become trapped in the hair shaft (medulla) and the keratin fibres of the nails, remaining in hair and nails as they grow, and making it possible to determine whether someone has consumed drugs, using hair and/or nail testing.

What are the different types of drug test for court?

There are four main types of court-approved drug test that we perform at AlphaBiolabs: hair, urine, oral fluid, and nail drug testing.

The fundamental difference between each of these tests is the sample type that is collected and analysed at the laboratory.

However, each test also provides a different ‘detection window’ for drug use – that is, the amount of time that drugs remain detectable

Although methods such as urine or oral fluid testing can only show us what a person has consumed in the past couple of days, the rate at which hair and nails grow means that both hair and nail drug testing can provide us with a ‘wide window’ of detection for drugs and their metabolites (up to 12 months).

The below table shows the different test types, along with detection windows.

TEST TYPE DETECTION WINDOW
Oral fluid drug test Up to 48 hours
Urine drug test Up to 4 days
Hair drug test Up to 12 months (head hair & body hair)
Nail drug test Up to 12 months (toenail clippings)
Up to 6 months (fingernail clippings)

How are drug test results reported?

At AlphaBiolabs, we offer two types of drug test report:

  • Certificate of Analysis – included as standard for legally-instructed drug tests and details which substances were (and were not) detected within the sample.
  • Statement of Witness – a more in-depth report with full analytical results, interpretation, and conclusions. Available for an additional fee.

While both documents are invaluable for court proceedings, a Statement of Witness provides the most comprehensive interpretation of the findings, including disclosures provided at the time of sample collection (e.g. any hair treatments or prescribed medications) and the professional and objective expert opinion of the Reporting Scientist.

What will a drug test report show?

A legal drug test report will tell you whether one or more drugs were detected in an individual’s sample during a set period, depending on which testing method has been used (e.g. up to 12 months for head hair, body hair and nails), with the amount of each substance considered either above or below cut-off levels.

Unlike reports for other types of drug test (urine, oral fluid and nails), which tell us which drugs were consumed during a set period, head hair analysis is the only testing method that gives us the potential to determine a pattern of drug use over time, using segmented analysis.

Segmented analysis works by segmenting the head hair sample into 1cm pieces, for a month-by-month profile of a person’s drug use (1cm of head hair = one month of growth).

This enables us to identify trends such as an increase or decrease in usage, depending on the length of hair selected. These findings can then be laid out in a clear, concise drug test report, that can be easily interpreted in court.

AlphaBiolabs follows the Society of Hair Testing guidelines for cut-off levels (where applicable) for hair sample types.

What can’t be learnt from a drug test report?

A drug test and the subsequent report can tell us which drugs are likely to have been consumed during the period prior to samples being collected.

However, there are certain facts that cannot be determined using a drug test, including:

The exact date, time, and method of ingestion

While head hair analysis can provide us with a more detailed insight into an individual’s pattern of substance misuse, we can still only say whether the drug is present in the sample during the period for which we are testing – not the exact date or time of day when it was taken.

There is also no way to tell how a substance was ingested using laboratory analysis.

Quantities that were consumed

Similarly, because of the way drugs are broken down by the body – with the parent drug and only a proportion of its metabolites excreted – it is impossible to determine exactly how much of a substance was taken prior to sample collection.

Whether hair treatments have impacted the results

It is well documented that hair treatments including bleaching, perming, dyeing and excessive straightening have the potential to affect the results of a head hair drug test.

For this reason, we will always ask for full disclosure of any recent hair treatments so that this can be taken into consideration when preparing the results.

However, it is not possible to specifically determine to what extent the treatment may have impacted the results.

For an even more thorough insight, AlphaBiolabs offers a free Drug Screen Plus service for hair drug tests, that will tell you whether any additional substances were present that you did not specifically ask us to test for at the time of instruction.

What is Drug Screen Plus?

Our Drug Screen Plus service is a free of charge, additional sample screening service that you can opt into when you complete the paperwork to instruct us for a hair drug test.

If you choose Drug Screen Plus when submitting your instruction, we will screen the sample for the remainder of our drug panel free of charge (i.e. for those drugs you did not initially instruct us to test for).

If any other substances are detected outside of those you instructed us to test for, additional reporting fees will apply.

Drug Screen Plus can be used when testing hair samples for any combination of the drugs listed below:

  • Amphetamine
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Buprenorphine
  • Cannabis
  • Cocaine
  • Ecstasy (MDMA)
  • Ketamine
  • Mephedrone
  • Methadone
  • Methamphetamine
  • Opiates
  • Phencyclidine
  • Zolpidem

Where can I get a drug test for court?

AlphaBiolabs has been providing court-approved drug testing for the legal sector for over 15 years, including sample collection and analysis at our UKAS-accredited and award-winning UK laboratory.

Our drug test results are accepted by UK courts including Family Drug and Alcohol Courts.

We also offer free sample collection for legally-instructed drug tests from our 11 nationwide walk-in centres.

To request a quote for a court-approved drug test, call our Legal team on 0333 600 1300 or email testing@alphabiolabs.com.

Alternatively, complete our online quote form and a member of the team will be in touch to discuss yours and your clients’ requirements.

Drug testing for court

Request a quote for court-approved drug testing now, direct from our accredited laboratory.

Marie Law

Marie Law

Head of Toxicology at AlphaBiolabs

A highly-skilled and respected scientist with over 13 years’ experience in the field of forensics, Marie joined AlphaBiolabs in 2022 and oversees the company’s growing toxicology team.

As Head of Toxicology, Marie’s day-to-day responsibilities include maintaining the highest quality testing standards for toxicology and further enhancing AlphaBiolabs’ drug and alcohol testing services for members of the public, the legal sector, and the workplace sector.

Prior to joining AlphaBiolabs, Marie held roles with LGC Forensics, Cheshire Constabulary and Eurofins Forensic Services.

Connect with Marie on LinkedIn

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