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Providing NSW Drug Courts with fast, accurate urine testing

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1st May, 2023

The NSW Health Pathology Drug Toxicology Unit has been crucial to the success of the state’s Drug Court, which recently expanded its operations with the opening of a new Court in Dubbo.

The Drug Tox­i­col­o­gy Unit (DTU) pro­vides inde­pen­dent expert drug test­ing and is recog­nised as the top facil­i­ty of its kind in Australia.

Recent imple­men­ta­tion of new tech­nol­o­gy and urine drug test­ing pro­ce­dures have allowed the DTU to keep pace with the expan­sion of the NSW Drug Court program.

The Drug Court of NSW is a spe­cial­ist court that sits in Par­ra­mat­ta, Toron­to, Syd­ney and now at Dub­bo, which opened in Feb­ru­ary 2023. It is a mul­ti-agency response to drug-relat­ed offend­ing, proven to be more effi­cient at dri­ving down crime and reduc­ing the over­all bur­den on the jus­tice system.

It super­vis­es the inten­sive com­mu­ni­ty-based reha­bil­i­ta­tion of eli­gi­ble drug-depen­dent offend­ers who would oth­er­wise be sen­tenced to full-time imprisonment.

Par­tic­i­pants under­go a 12-month pro­gram, receiv­ing treat­ment for drug depen­den­cy and under­go­ing super­vised urine drug test­ing up to three times a week in the com­mu­ni­ty to ensure they remain drug-free.

A decade-long study found the re-offend­ing rate among Drug Court par­tic­i­pants was 17 per cent low­er than for peo­ple out­side the program.

The exterior of a courthouse building.
The Dub­bo Courthouse.

NSW Health Pathology’s Drug Tox­i­col­o­gy Unit pro­vides essen­tial rapid urine test­ing to ensure Drug Court par­tic­i­pants are abid­ing by the terms of the program.

Retired Judge Roger Dive who head­ed the spe­cial­ist Drug Court for 17 years said the fast turn­around of results from the DTU has been cru­cial to the court’s success.

“Requir­ing super­vised drug tests and hav­ing them reli­ably test­ed is a foun­da­tion of the pro­gram,” he said.

“The Drug Tox­i­col­o­gy Unit has been such an impor­tant part­ner in our work, and the speed with which we receive the results is the envy of Drug Courts around the world.”

“It is just so much more effec­tive to talk about a test tak­en only two or three days ago, as apart from try­ing to work out what hap­pened weeks ago.”

DTU lab man­ag­er Shan­mugam Banuku­mar (pic­tured above) says the lab has under­gone a tech­no­log­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion in recent years, ensur­ing it can man­age the increased demand from the Drug Court, con­tin­u­al­ly pro­vid­ing fast, accu­rate results.

“Pre­vi­ous­ly there was a lot of man­u­al han­dling of sam­ples, but we’ve now installed world-lead­ing auto­mat­ed machin­ery that has com­plete­ly replaced all the man­u­al extrac­tion processes.

“All the sam­ples are tracked through­out the process, ensur­ing the integri­ty of sam­ple processing.”

A woman in a lab coat and mask sits at a desk near high-tech laboratory equipment.
New analy­sis equip­ment has trans­formed the Drug Tox­i­col­o­gy Unit.
A woman in a white lab coat loads samples into a machine.
World-lead­ing auto­mat­ed machin­ery has been installed at the DTU.

The instru­ments used by the DTU to detect illic­it drugs have all been upgrad­ed and replaced with the lat­est tech­nol­o­gy, four liq­uid chro­matog­ra­phy mass spec­trom­e­ters, capa­ble of test­ing for up to 80 dif­fer­ent drugs in a mat­ter of minutes.

A col­lab­o­ra­tion between sci­ence and jus­tice, help­ing to reduce the social and eco­nom­ic harms of drug mis­use with­in the NSW community.


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