Drug testing laboratory accreditation: The what, how and why

Lolita Tsanaclis

Lolita Tsanaclis

on Apr 6, 2016

Drug testing laboratory accreditationWhen you go to see your doctor, you want to see a medically qualified practitioner who knows exactly what they’re doing. It’s no different when it comes to drug testing. 

The results of a drug test can have massive implications when it comes to family court. It can be the difference between a parent gaining or losing access to their child. That’s why the drug test needs to be carried out by an accredited laboratory who you can be sure will deliver accurate results. 

Here’s 3 things family lawyers need to know about laboratory accreditation and why it’s important.


What accreditation do labs need?

The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) is the sole national accreditation body for the UK. UKAS assess organisations that provide testing, inspection and calibration services to ensure they meet international standards. 

For drug testing, laboratories should have ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation. This certifies that a lab uses valid sampling and testing methods to produce reliable and accurate drug test results.

Essentially, ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation is the industry standard that any and every lab should really be holding. 

How does accreditation work?

Although a lab may boast UKAS accreditation, it doesn’t mean this covers all the tests the lab offers. In fact, accreditation is test specific. Labs may opt to gain accreditation for a few specific drug or drug groups but skip the process for other tests they offer. 

For example, a lab may have accreditation to test for all the drugs within the cocaine group (i.e. cocaine, norcocaine etc.) but may not have accreditation for all the drugs in the opiates group (i.e. morphine, heroin etc.). It could even be the case that the lab is accredited just for cocaine and not for the other metabolites in the cocaine group, and still advertise as being an accredited laboratory.

This is where you need to be careful of labs who claim they are ISO/IEC 17025 accredited. They may show off the UKAS badge on their website, but that doesn’t mean it applies to the specific drug types you’re interested in. 

To find out if a particular lab has accreditation to test for certain drugs, you can view their accreditation on the UKAS website. If a lab is accredited for a particular drug group, it will be listed in their ‘schedule of accreditation’. You can see the schedule of accreditation for Cansford Laboratories here.

Why is accreditation important? 

Laboratory accreditation isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity. Or at least it should be in your eyes. Remember, the results of a drug test are often used in family court. If there’s even a shred of doubt concerning the validity of the test, you may find that a Judge throws your test out the window. Ultimately, this can have huge implications on the outcome of the case. 

Labs have even been investigated for submitting the results of drug tests as evidence in court, without the proper accreditation. 

For example, an investigation was conducted into the ‘Motherisk’ drug testing program used by the Hospital for Sick Kids in Canada. It was found that the lab submitted drug test results are evidence in legal proceedings, but failed to clarify to the courts that they weren’t a forensic lab.

An ISO/IEC 17025 accredited laboratory has covered all the forensic elements of drug testing for toxicology. There’s a huge difference between a drug testing lab and a forensically accredited laboratory in their procedures and routines, so the outcome of the test can vary significantly. 

The learn from this is to make sure that a lab holds the right accreditation for your particular case to ensure the results hold up in court.

Overall, laboratory accreditation plays a more important role in drug testing than many people think. The difference between an accredited and unaccredited lab could be the difference between the right and wrong decision in a courtroom.

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Lolita Tsanaclis

Lolita Tsanaclis

Dr. Lolita Tsanaclis, Chief Scientific Officer of Cansford Laboratories Limited, has been developing methods for the analysis of drugs in hair since 1993. She has been involved in drug testing using hair, blood and oral fluid samples for medico-legal and workplace sectors for over three decades. Dr Tsanaclis is published extensively as author and as co-author in highly regarded peer-reviewed publications and scientific presentations.

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