Lindsay Lohan’s failed drug test and Paris Hilton’s arrest and guilty plea for cocaine possession top the news and highlight the problems with substance abuse during America’s National Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Month.
In child custody cases, judges are required to consider the best interests of minor children and their safety. Allegations of substance abuse — of any nature including but not limited to abuse of alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, etc. — must be taken seriously. When allegations of substance abuse appear to be supported by evidence, the Court will often order drug testing to verify whether substance abuse is a problem. In making the determination whether to order drug testing, the judge will consider the credibility of the testimony, whether the party admits to substance abuse, past history including criminal charges for drug use, other evidence and risk/danger to the child. Since inaccurate accusations are common, some judges are reluctant to order testing based upon a mere accusation of substance use/abuse. Outside corroboration is often best obtained through affidavits of eye-witnesses of through the use of a private investigator. Private investigators like Cape Fear Investigative Services can perform trash pulls and look for evidence of drugs and even swipe door handles to test for drug residue.
Nationally, about 21.2% of adults age 18–25 use illicit drugs according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Of adults 26 years of age or older, about 6.3% use illicit drugs but nearly 20% of adults age 26–34 report binge drinking. Rates of marijuana use in nearly every age group is on the rise. Statistically, males are more likely to be drug users than females and drug use is also higher among those unemployed. See the complete 2009 results.
A judge can order the cost of drug testing be paid by either party and is in the discretion of the Court. The type of drug testing is also in the discretion of the court. A urine screen is quick and relatively inexpensive but is easily subject to manipulation of results (e.g., drinking large amounts of water in advance of the test) and the look back period is very limited often to less than one week. A hair follicle test is more expensive but often provides much better results over a longer period of time. And a test of a fingernail is even better for some purposes. We often use ARCpoint in Wilmington, NC for drug testing results.
When a party has a problem with drugs, the best approach is to get a substance abuse assessment and follow the treatment recommendations — even in-patient treatment if needed. By showing a pattern of recovery, the party is best able to convince the Court that the problem is admitted, is being addressed and that management of the problem is on-going.
Mental health experts can also perform a substance abuse assessment and often use the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI) as one mechanism to help identify individuals with a high probability of having a substance dependence disorder.
When dealing with accusations of substance abuse in a child custody case, it is important to have legal counsel and a plan of action in place to refute false accusations or embrace true accusations and put a safety plan in place that allows the parties to have quality time with their children.