Cansford bangs the drum for drug and alcohol testing industry regulation

The outcomes of drug and alcohol testing in family law cases can affect livelihoods, families, relationships and reputations and the consequences of mistakes can be devastating. Yet the industry is not regulated. Just take a moment to let that sink in.

John Wicks, CEO of drug and alcohol testing firm Cansford Laboratories, is passionately banging the drum to call for industry regulation. Here he explains why fellow labs as well as judges and family lawyers should advocate for it.

I want the industry to be regulated so that laboratories – large and small – cannot sell drug and alcohol testing services without meeting strict regulation criteria, similar to the way forensic testing is regulated. The drug and alcohol testing industry has grown in size and in importance over the years and I strongly believe it’s time that regulators recognise that.

When you consider that drug and alcohol test results in family law cases can influence important decisions regarding child custody, parental access and responsibilities, people need reliable assurance that every laboratory providing these services is up to scratch. Currently, the absence of regulation allows any lab to carry out testing without meeting specific quality requirements. This self-regulation approach results in varying testing methods, personnel, collection processes, and quality assurance checks across UK labs.

Unfortunately, you don’t have to search far to find a scandal relating to a laboratory which has manipulated test results or had inadequate processes in place that have had devastating consequences for legal cases. Whilst rare, these scandals breed scepticism and undermine trust in the industry as a whole.

At present, accreditations should be the first port of call for any court or organisation that is looking for a laboratory to carry out drug and alcohol testing. UKAS ISO17025: 2017 is the key accreditation which shows processes are robust and would stand up in court if required. The recently updated standards set by the LAB51 Publication are a welcome, customer-focused requirement. LAB51 audits quality controls and proficiency to ensure test results are valid, which is essential for the work laboratories carry out. Whilst it is not a legal requirement to be accredited, we see it as a measure of quality that can be universally recognised by courts, family law professionals and members of the public alike.

The Society of Hair Testing (SoHT) also plays an important role by providing recommended best practice guidelines for laboratories. These guidelines include reference to recommended sample collection and storage procedures, through to hair sample preparation, pre-treatment and analysis and the use of cut-offs. Whilst acting as a regulator, it is crucial to note that SoHT is not officially recognised as such. It provides voluntary guidelines rather than mandatory regulations.

Despite most reputable laboratories in the UK being accredited, accreditation alone falls short of ensuring the highest operational standards. The introduction of comprehensive regulations, governed by a regulatory body, would protect families and establish consistency across the industry.

Given the significant implications for family law cases, I firmly believe the implementation of comprehensive regulations in the drug and alcohol testing industry is vital to ensure that families involved in family law proceedings are treated fairly, and accurate test results are obtained. Such regulations would establish consistent standards, reliable procedures, and recognised accreditation bodies, instilling confidence in the testing process and facilitating fair outcomes in family law cases.

By championing industry regulation, I ultimately hope to contribute to safeguarding families, protecting their reputations, and promoting fair outcomes in drug and alcohol-related family law cases.

This article was submitted to be published by Cansford Laboratories as part of their advertising agreement with Today’s Family Lawyer. The views expressed in this article are those of the submitter and not those of Today’s Family Lawyer.

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