Drug Testing in Court: What Matters Most to Courtroom Professionals
The need for drug testing in court cases is prevalent. Whether utilized to provide probation oversight or inform child welfare decisions, drug testing for substance use and abuse plays a significant role in the outcome of court cases. In these situations, the most critical aspects of drug testing and monitoring revolve around the methodologies that provide airtight reliability.
In particular, court officials, judges, and case workers require the highest degree of certainty that the testing methods are consistently free of tampering, scientifically reliable, and admissible in court. In every way, the PharmChek® Drugs of Abuse Sweat Patch meets—and often exceeds—these stringent expectations.
What Is the PharmChek® Drugs of Abuse Sweat Patch?
The Sweat Patch is a drug detection tool that our nation’s courts have used for decades. It uses an absorbent pad, protected by a semipermeable membrane, placed directly on the wearer’s skin to collect insensible perspiration (undetectable sweat) for seven to ten days. Water in the sweat evaporates through the membrane, leaving behind substances of larger molecular weight in the pad. Once collected, the sample is tested for both the parent drug and/or drug metabolite.
What Drugs Does the Sweat Patch Detect?
The PharmChek® Drugs of Abuse Sweat Patch offers two different panels that cover a large selection of substances. The Standard Panel detects methamphetamine, amphetamine, cocaine, codeine, morphine, heroin, marijuana, and PCP. The Expanded Panel adds to this list several synthetic opioids, including hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, oxymorphone, fentanyl, and norfentanyl. There is also a fentanyl add-on that can be included with the Standard Panel (but cannot be purchased independently).
Is the Pharmchek® Drugs of Abuse Sweat Patch Novel Technology?
There are other forms of drug testing more recognizable to the general public than PharmChek®, but our sweat patch is not new to the court system. In fact, the PharmChek® Drugs of Abuse Sweat Patch has been FDA-cleared for court use since 1990. It’s also been generally accepted as valid and reliable in the field of toxicology.
What Are the Advantages of Sweat Testing over Urine Testing in Court?
One of the essential advantages of the PharmChek® Sweat Patch is that it is a minimally invasive collection method. Physically, the Sweat Patch does not require direct observation during collection. With its impermeable polyurethane layer protecting the collection patch from tampering or contamination, wearers do not sacrifice privacy to maintain the test’s reliability. Furthermore, wearers do not need to adjust their schedules to meet random testing requirements or frequent sample collection demands.
Beyond convenience and privacy, the Sweat Patch also provides long-term testing. A single sweat patch can be worn for up to 14 days when paired with our optional PharmChek® Overlay, which provides continuous monitoring throughout the wear time. This extended window of detection paints a more complete picture of a wearer’s drug use patterns, as well as consistent accountability.
Is the Sweat Patch a Reliable Form of Drug Testing in Court?
Not only is the Sweat Patch considered a reliable form of drug testing in court, but it’s also been long established as a valid and admissible test in many capacities. In fact, Retired Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor, stated that the PharmChek® Sweat Patch is commonly used because of its “non-invasiveness, resistance to intentional adulteration, and ability to detect drug use over relatively long periods.”
If this isn’t a convincing endorsement for the Sweat Patch, then the hundreds of court cases that have relied on its ability to detect drug use certainly are. For the last four decades, it has consistently proven itself a reliable and admissible test for determining substance use patterns in court.
What About Different Results from Different Forms of Testing?
One of the most common questions with sweat patch testing is how to reconcile differences in testing results when compared with other sampling methods. This does occur, and positive results from the Sweat Patch seemingly can conflict with negative results from urine tests.
Though these results may appear incongruent, the results aren’t necessarily in conflict due to the different windows of detection. Where a urine test may show negative three days after use, a sweat patch may show positive if the donor used drugs during the 10-day wear-time.
Are There Peer Reviewed Studies to Support Its Use for Drug Testing in Court?
There are dozens of peer-reviewed articles supporting the Sweat Patch’s reliability (available here). And cases that have relied on drug testing in court have referred to these studies to support their rulings. Court officials, judges, and case workers can trust that Sweat Patch results can support rulings, treatment plans, and motivational behavioral modification processes.
What Is the Chain of Custody?
Chain of custody is a crucial evidentiary piece for reporting results accurately. The more detailed the process of training, collection, security, shipping, and testing, the more dependable the results. And PharmChek®’s chain of custody is airtight from end to end.
Starting with detailed training and certification for the application, collection, and removal of the Sweat Patch, the chain of custody also defines all shipping and security processes, from sample collection to delivery at the lab. After the testing is complete, the results are securely delivered to the supervising authorities through an encrypted online system.
What About Passive or Inadvertent Exposure?
Secondhand exposure, physical contact, and even intimate relations are concerns in several different testing methods. But the PharmChek® Sweat Patch has shown no effects from inadvertent exposure. The polyurethane layer that adheres to the wearer’s skin prevents any outside contamination from direct contact.
However, even secondhand inhalation exposure has been shown to be inconsequential in the results of drug testing in court cases. Between court rulings and specific studies, the Sweat Patch demonstrates its reliability time and time again.
What About the Criminal Justice System?
The strongest testament to the Sweat Patch’s reliability comes from the criminal justice system. Legal and judicial precedent is the keystone to modern law. The Sweat Patch has a large body of judicial rulings and legal precedents that attest to its reputation.
Where is the Sweat Patch Used in the Criminal Justice System?
Drug testing in court cases serves many different purposes, and the Sweat Patch is a familiar tool in several different areas of the criminal justice system, across many states, and in many diverse settings.
For example, the PharmChek® Drugs of Abuse Sweat Patch can be used for pretrial, probation, and parole supervision. In these cases, it serves the purpose of monitoring use over longer periods of time with less invasive and inconvenient testing and collection requirements. But the Sweat Patch is also commonly used in drug courts and in child protection proceedings.
Can Sweat Patch Drug Testing in Court Be Used for Sentencing Purposes?
The Sweat Patch has been used to inform sentencing, and its results have been held up as admissible and reliable. This comes from the secure chain of custody and stringent standards of collection and testing that PharmChem requires.
Hear What Other Judges Have to Say about the PharmChek® Sweat Patch
Listen to Judge Greg Pinski, a retired judge from Montana, discuss how the sweat patch was used in his adult and veterans treatment courts.
Articles and References
Commonwealth v. Hall, No. 925 MDA 2018, 2019 WL 1579630 (Pa. Super. Ct. Apr. 12, 2019)
In re Madison T., 970 N.W.2d 122 (Neb. Ct. App. 2022)
U.S. v. Alfonso, 284 F. Supp. 2d 193 (D. Mass. 2003)
U.S. v. Bentham, 414 F. Supp. 2d 472 (S.D.N.Y. 2006)
U.S. v. Corona, No. 097-31(3) (MJD/AJB), 2007 WL 4531475 (D. Minn. Dec. 19, 2007)
U.S. v. Fenimore, No. 98-00018-04-CR-W-ODS, 2003 WL 23374632 (W.D. Mo. Aug. 29, 2003)
U.S. v. Gatewood, 370 F. 3d 1055 (10th Cir. 2004), vacated on other grounds, 543 U.S. 1109 (2005)
U.S. v. Gragg, 95 F.3d 1154 (7th Cir. 1996)
U.S. v. McCormick, 54 F.3d 214 (5th Cir. 1995)
U.S. v. Meyer, 483 F.3d 865 (8th Cir. 2007) (O’Connor, J., Ret., sitting by designation)
U.S. v. Stumpf, 54 F. Supp. 2d 972 (D. Nev. 1999)
U.S. v. Wilson, No. 91-CR-124, 1995 WL 324541 (N.D. Ill. May 26, 1995)
U.S. v. Yang, No. 3:14-cr-00069-SLG-DMS, 2021 WL 4304705 (D. Alaska Sept. 1, 2021)
U.S. v. Zubeck, 248 F. Supp. 2d 895 (W.D. Mo. 2002)
National Association of Drug Court Professionals, Best Practice Standards, vol. II, at 28-29, 31 (2018)
For a complete list of court cases, please visit www.pharmchek.com/resources/court-cases. For a complete list of research articles, please visit www.pharmchek.com/resources/research-articles.