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Drug screening in Divorce Cases
By Mike Grosh and Steve Barber

Anyone familiar with Family Court has seen incidences of court ordered drug screening in child custody cases. Often, one litigant will accuse the other of substance abuse or alcoholism to justify their claim to custody. Drug screening is a reasonable and potentially valuable tool in many such circumstances. The problem is, the courts are often uninformed as to the technical nuances of drug screening and inadvertently order screens which are inappropriate to the specific circumstances of the case.

In other words, a drug screen is not necessarily a drug screen, and the courts often don’t know the difference. For example: a wife claims her husband is an alcoholic. The Judge orders a “drug screen.” Typically this would result in a urine drug screen which tests for, among other things, alcohol. Let’s says the screen comes back positive for alcohol. What does that tell the Court? Only that the husband consumed some amount of alcohol within 24 hours of the specimen collection. How does this relate to the question of alcoholism? Nil. At the same time, let’s say the screen comes back negative for alcohol. What does that tell the Court? Precisely nil as with the positive outcome, because an individual may have pounded down four or five martinis the day before the screen, but made it past the detection window (6 to 24 hours). All the judge really would have learned is that the individual was capable of abstaining from alcohol for from 6 to 24 hours. That information hardly supports or denies alcoholism.

The Judge, after hearing arguments from council, decides to up the ante. She orders total abstinence and “random,” drug screening with alcohol and BAT (breath alcohol testing) to be performed once a week for a month. She then asks her clerk to schedule the screens. The result is a testing program that is transparent to the individual being tested, who knows at least within several hours when he will be tested. The tests continually produce negative results. What does that tell the court?  At best, hubby is sober as a judge, if you will pardon the pun. At worst, he drinks himself blind every chance he gets but knows to quit early on the night before his testing date, and that after that date the sky is the limit until the evening before the next testing date. Woo-hoo!

Who knows the technical applications and limitations of drug screens? Physicians, toxicologists, educated third party administrators, and every drug addict and alcoholic living a life of constant deception. Just Google "beating drug screens" to see how the information flows.

So what would have worked in this case? One sure methodology would have been to engage an outside Third Party Administrator who can obtain an Alcohol and Drug Assessment from a qualified mental health professional, and then introduce a program of blind random screening which utilizes the characteristics of true randomness, adequate frequency, and the right technology. Properly administered such a program can provide irrefutable evidence of abstinence and compliance, or, alternately prove use and non-compliance. The results of such a program are technically accurate and fully evidentiary.

The above scenario addresses alcohol only, which is the simplest of all substance detection and monitoring targets. What about chronic marijuana, cocaine, opiates, overuse of prescription drugs, and so forth. Each substance has its own set of techniques, detection limitations, and strategies.

So, what is the message?  Whether you are a Judge, Attorney or litigant, whenever drug screening is concerned, you should either have or hire the appropriate expertise to properly use the drug screening tool. There are forensic drug screening experts available who can help. Typically their intervention will serve to expedite the case and reduce costs. Seek them out.

© copyright 2008 Span Corporation

Mike Grosh is President of Span Corporation, a national provider of drug screen and background investigation Third Party Administration services. Span Corporation headquarters are located at 1505 White St Ann Arbor MI 48103. Mike, Steve and Span Corporation can be reached at 734-623-7726 or Website URL:

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