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.
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.”
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.