When parents separate often the most contentious area is that of the children; with whom they shall live, and whether, and, if so, how often they should see the other parent. If part of the parental separation concerned drug or alcohol abuse, this area becomes even more fraught.
When one parent has left the other because they find the behaviours exhibited while the other is under the influence of drugs or drink frightening, the last thing that parent wants to do is to hand over their child to be cared for by a person they no longer can trust and in whose parental care they no longer believe the children are safe.
To find out more about what can be done when this issue arises, this month I have spoken to Avi Lasarow, the Managing Director of Trimega Laboratories, which carries out thousands of hair strand tests on behalf of the courts each year. His laboratories conduct both hair strand drug testing and hair strand alcohol testing. He takes us step by step through the process, from court order to result.
The first step is to obtain the order for the testing, which will specify what drugs are to be tested for, and whether alcohol is to be tested for.
Once the order is obtained the next step is to take the sample. This is usually taken by a nurse, often at the acting solicitors’ office, but can also be taken by the solicitor or GP. The person providing the sample has to be identified, either by showing his or her passport, or by providing a photo of themselves with a declaration on the back from the solicitor that this is the person it is supposed to be. A history is also taken by the nurse, for instance of any prescribed drugs currently being taken.
A straw or pencil diameter size sample of hair is taken. This is then placed in a tamper proof evidence bag and sent to the laboratory, where it is washed, cut into small pieces, liquefied and tested.
Mr Lasarow informed me that in cases involving children, hair is the “gold standard” of testing on the basis that hair will show a pattern, whereas other testing does not. A head hair test can go back 12 months, with approximately 1 centimetre of hair being equated to one month in time. Therefore you can specifically trace usage over a timeframe, which is very useful if a parent needs to demonstrate they are making efforts to become clean.
If someone has short hair, or has shaved off their hair, body hair is then used. Body hair has a slower growth rate – according to Mr Lasarow you can not be month specific, you can only say that over a period of time either a drug or alcohol has been taken. Of course from a legal viewpoint if hair strand testing is ordered and then someone shaves off their hair, the judge is entitled to draw his or her own conclusions from that, and that parent is then simply elongating the already lengthy evidential process.
Once the hair is tested the screening scientist then records the results in a report for the court, stating what drugs were found, in what quantities and over what period. From the conclusions the court then determines what evidence it will subsequently require.
Wikizine would like to thank Mr Lasarow for taking the time to talk to us.