One of the most important decisions that needs to be made in a drug and alcohol test is deciding which lab will conduct the test. This decision will have an impact on every remaining step in the process, so it’s important to get this right.
The first thing you need to know is not all drug testing labs are the same. Although you may see them offering the same types of services, different labs have different approaches to their testing methods but also differ in terms of the credentials they boast.
Important criteria to distinguish between drug testing laboratories include their accreditation, participation in proficiency testing and the speed and cost of their service.
ISO/IEC 17025 Accreditation
When deciding if a particular lab is the right one for you, it’s crucial to check whether they have ISO/IEC 17025 Accreditation.
Essentially, this form of accreditation verifies that the lab uses valid sampling and testing methods to produce accurate and reliable results. For Family Lawyers, this accreditation is important to ensuring the drug test results the lab produce can hold up in court.
Still, accreditation goes a little deeper than this. Where a lab might say they’re ISO/IEC 17025 accredited, the follow-up question to this should be ‘what exactly are you ISO/IEC 17025 accredited for?
The often overlooked difference between labs is the specific drug groups they’re accredited for. For example, a particular lab may hold accreditation for the assessment of particular drug groups such as the cocaine group and the opiates group. Yet, they may not hold accreditation for the drugs and metabolites in the cannabis or methadone groups.
If the drugs your hair test require testing for aren’t accredited by a particular lab, you may want to think twice before choosing this lab to conduct the drug test. For more information about laboratory accreditation, check out this link.
Participation in Proficiency Schemes
Proficiency schemes help to assess the accuracy of the testing procedures of a particular lab. For example, the Society of Hair Testing (SoHT) (organisation promoting research into the use of hair testing in clinical and forensic cases) run a proficiency test scheme.
The way it works is a test provider will send a series of participating labs a sample. The chemical composition of the sample will be identical across the samples and it’s the job of the lab to test the sample and produce a report. The test provider can then assess the report and evaluate the accuracy of the lab’s results.
The benefits of participating in proficiency schemes is that it helps the lab to identify areas of weakness and improve their processes to boost the accuracy of the results they produce.
Having said that, participation in proficiency schemes doesn’t necessarily mean that you should choose that particular lab to conduct the hair test. When a lab advertises their participation in proficiency testing, you might ask them ‘how successful has your participation in these proficiency tests been?’. Ideally, they should show consistently high levels of accuracy in the results they produce or increasing accuracy in results from each test. What you want to avoid is choosing a lab that participates in proficiency testing yet the accuracy of the results they produce is poor.
Speed and Cost
The turnaround times on drug test results tends to differ between labs, but most can get the results back to you within 2 weeks. The problem for many Family Lawyers is that this often isn’t quick enough.
However, there are labs like Cansford Laboratories who can conduct a test and provide results back to the Family Lawyer within 5 days of sample collection. This means the sample is collected and taking into account 2 days in the post, the results will be ready within 3 days of sample arrival in the lab, a total of 5 days from sample collection.
When it comes to the cost of the drug test, there’s a few factors that you need to take into account. Firstly, the type of test i.e. oral fluids versus hair tests. Usually, hair tests are the most expensive. You also need to consider how many drugs are being tested for, where the more drugs required for testing, the higher the cost. Finally, the period of detection of drug use can significantly affect the cost of a drug test. Specifically, the longer the period of detection with multiple sections, the higher the cost.
For example, hair drug tests can assess drug use as far back as 12 months, even longer. You can be sure that a hair test assessing drug use 12 months back will cost a lot more than a test assessing 3 months of historical drug use.
When it comes down to the numbers, a drug test can cost between £250 to £1000. Yet, the decision you make in choosing a drug and alcohol testing laboratory shouldn’t rest solely on the price they can offer you. Just because a certain lab can offer a better price doesn’t mean they can offer a better service.
Ultimately, it’s important to consider how accreditation, success in proficiency testing and turnaround time each contribute to how qualified a lab is to conduct the hair test. A fully accredited lab with successful participation in proficiency schemes is more likely to produce accurate and reliable results compared to a lab with partial accreditation and average accuracy in proficiency testing. Take your time and consider each of these factors carefully before making your final choice.
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