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Drug Court Practitioner Fact Sheet (2004)

As the title implies, the objective of this fact sheet is to provide drug court professionals with a scientifically based justification for discontinuing the interpretation of urine drug levels in an effort to define client drug use behavior. As the premise of this document is not without some controversy, clarification of its intent seems warranted.

This fact sheet is intended for drug court practitioners who are routinely engaged in the interpretation and evaluation of urine drug testing results for the purpose of participant case adjudication, particularly client sanctioning. Given that most drug courts do not have routine access to biomedical or pharmacological expertise, this fact sheet recommends that the use of urine drug concentrations be eliminated from the court’s decision-making process in order to protect client rights and ensure that evidentiary standards are maintained.

It is not the intention of this document to prohibit the interpretation of laboratory data by qualified scientists. Nor is it the objective of this fact sheet to assert that urine drug levels have no interpretative value. However, drug court practitioners are cautioned that the interpretation of urine drug levels is highly complex and even under the best of circumstances provides only limited information regarding a participant’s drug use patterns. Further, such interpretations can be a matter of disagreement even between experts with the requisite knowledge and training to render such opinions.

It is for these stated reasons that the NDCI strongly encourages drug court programs to utilize the information contained herein to evaluate their drug testing result interpretation practices. This organization recognizes that the use of urine drug levels to assess client behavior may be widespread and longstanding. However, because courts rarely have the necessary toxicology expertise, the routine use of urine drug levels by court personnel in formulating drug court decisions is a practice that in most cases would not withstand scientific or judicial scrutiny. It is hoped that this fact sheet will serve as the foundation for those drug court programs routinely interpreting urine drug levels to transition to a strictly qualitative (positive or negative only) result format. Drug courts are also encouraged to seek expert toxicology advice when necessary and appropriate to assist in the interpretation of testing data associated with challenging cases.