Leading in Drug Testing

The Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia (PSA) was the first pretrial program to introduce onsite drug testing of defendants to supplement interview information with an accurate and objective measure of recent drug use. PSA received initial funding to implement a pilot program in 1984 from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Based on its success, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) provided funding to six jurisdictions to establish pretrial drug testing demonstration projects. These projects were designed to replicate the District’s testing model, incorporating both pre-initial appearance testing and pretrial drug monitoring.

Under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, Congress also mandated pretrial drug testing in eight selected federal court districts as a two-year demonstration project. In a subsequent report, the Administrative Office of the United States Courts advocated expanding pretrial drug testing to all federal court districts. In 1995, President Bill Clinton directed Attorney General Janet Reno to develop and implement a universal policy providing for the drug testing of all federal arrestees before the decision was made to release them into the community pending trial. He also directed the Attorney General to take steps to encourage states to adopt and implement the policy.

To activate the directive at the federal level, in 1996 the Attorney General reached agreement with the federal courts to implement pretrial drug testing in 24 of the 94 federal districts, an initiative called Operation Drug Test. To begin implementing the policy at the state level, Congress increased funding for the Byrne Formula Grant program in FY 1997 by $25 million, specifically to encourage state and local jurisdictions to support effective drug testing initiatives at all stages of the criminal justice process, beginning with the pretrial stage.

PSA’s in-house full-service laboratory uses Immunoassay as well as Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GCMS) methodologies. GCMS is widely recognized in the scientific community as the most specific, sensitive technique that exists for determining the chemical structure of a compound. Whereas many programs rely on test results that report positive or negative for drug use, PSA’s Lab performs pharmacokinetic interpretations which detect if drug use is new or residual – PSA sanctions defendants only on new use.

Congress passed the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) in 1988, establishing quality standards for all labs testing human specimens for diagnosis, prevention or treatment of illnesses.  The policy of the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which regulates all non-research laboratory testing through CLIA, is that labs performing drug and alcohol screening and/or testing followed by individual treatment must be CLIA-certified. A 2008 survey of agencies testing probation and parole populations conducted by the American Probation and Parole Association found that the vast majority of respondents did not use CLIA-certified laboratories. PSA’s Lab is certified by DHHS/CLIA and is staffed by professionals with credentials in forensic toxicology, forensic science, medical technology, chemistry and biology.