How Family Court can close the loophole for diverted prescription drugs

It’s no secret that prescription drugs are changing hands illegally. High-performance painkillers, especially opioids like Tramadol, have strong addictive properties. This creates a ready market for any dealer or addict with access to a legal supply.

What is ‘Drug Diversion’?

We all know this “Drug Diversion” happens. This is where dealers siphon meds from family members, and others who fake symptoms to get hold of unneeded prescriptions.

It’s well documented by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) that an estimated £200 million worth of drugs was lost to the black market (2013-16).

The real problem, however, goes beyond the financial hit.

Can passive smoking cause a failed drug test?

What impact does diverted prescription drugs have?

Far more serious is the impact of a wrongly-medicated society. A place where elderly and vulnerable adults are deprived of essential meds. Thousands of others, many of them parents and carers, are taking controlled drugs without a prescription.

The effect of diverted prescription drugs on child custody cases

When it comes to child custody cases, this is a critical concern, as this type of misuse presents so many risks to the child.

  • Emotional Neglect: Certain drugs will leave the parent sedated or drowsy, and unable to attend to the child’s emotional needs.
  • Physical Neglect: A parent spending the family budget on prescription drugs will have less money to feed and clothe their child.
  • Risk of Hardship: When the parent falls behind on rent and other essentials, poverty follows – further impacting the child’s physical and mental development.
  • Sudden Bereavement: A parent taking meds without a prescription is unlikely to control their dose. Especially if their motive is to combat withdrawal from heroin, or to supplement a prescription for methadone. Then their risk of accidental overdose is extremely high. It will continue to increase as their tolerance builds. (Our medical experts will attest to this from their days in A&E.)
  • Exposure to Danger: Contact with dealers could see the parent progress to harder drugs – bringing further risk to their health, finances and the child’s own safety.
  • Withdrawal Problems: if supply is cut off suddenly, rapid withdrawal can cause violent mood swings – placing the child at risk of abuse.

These dangers are undeniable. And yet, prescription drugs often go undetected – because they’re only optional elements in a court-ordered lab test.

How is substance testing used in the family court?
The 9-Panel Drug Test:

The standard 9 Panel Drug Test was established as the best way to detect the most common drugs:

  1. Cocaine (CLASS A)
  2. Opiates  (CLASS A)
  3. Methadone  (CLASS A)
  4. Amphetamine (CLASS B)
  5. Methamphetamines (CLASS B)
  6. Cannabinoids (CLASS B)
  7. Ketamine  (CLASS B)
  8. Benzodiazepines  (CLASS C)
  9. Tramadol  (CLASS C)
Hair Drug Testing - 9 panel drug tests

The 9 Panel Test has been a staple part of the investigation process since it was introduced by Dr Rosemary Atkinson in 2000.
It originally tested for Barbiturates, but when this drug began to tail off it was replaced in the test by Tramadol – now a controlled drug that’s in high demand on the black market.

How the drug test can identify prescription medication

When the full test is run, we might discover that a parent has swapped one drug for another. For example, they’ve stopped using cannabis but replaced it with Tramadol. (The effects of the two drugs are not identical, but both have painkilling and antidepressant qualities, so this substitution is common.)

In this instance, the 9 Panel Drug Test would detect the parent’s Tramadol habit. However, the full drug test is often set aside in favour of a “pick and mix” test, based on a narrower list of drugs declared by the parent or their solicitor.

How hair drug testing can identify recreational vs dependent misuse
The prescription medication loophole

When this drug list makes it onto the final Court Order, the lab is powerless to test for anything else. So in our example, the prescription drug substitution would have gone undetected. The lab report would have stated that the parent tested negative for Cannabis.

To speak frankly, children can be put at serious risk by this family court procedural loophole: the flaw in the system that lets the parent specify the terms of their own test.

Far be it from us to suggest that the parent or their solicitor is purposely “playing the system”. But this mix-and-match test offers no cost saving over the 9-panel option, so it’s fair to say that something doesn’t quite add up.

Why should hair segmentation be used in drug tests?
How can Family Courts close the loophole for diverted prescription drugs?

We would urge any Family Judge or Family Law Solicitor to order the 9 Panel Drug Test as standard. As safeguarding professionals, we are all there to ensure the best interests of the child, and we believe this can only be achieved through the standard test. Plus further drug screening for any additional substances declared or suspected by any party.

We also advise that a lab test is only one part of the story. The court needs to understand the effects of any drug combinations we identify, and this can’t be determined at a generic level.

It takes a formal process of Medical Interpretation, based on the client’s drug and medical history, prescriptions, lifestyle, behavioural changes and more.

Only then can we show how diverted prescription meds – and other drugs – will affect the parent, and in turn, identify the true risk to the child.

For more on drug testing and our medical review process, click here.

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