New drug testing adopted in ELO court amid pandemic

Morning Journal/Stephanie Ujhelyi Probation officer Shawn Dunn holds the test kit, which is the final step in the East Liverpool Municipal Court’s newly introduced hair follicle testing for clients.

EAST LIVERPOOL — The East Liverpool Municipal Court recently achieved another first for its drug court.

According to Sara Norris, who oversees the court’s probation department, they recently surprised their clients with new technology, after introducing hair follicle testing amid the pandemic.

Many government buildings like East Liverpool City Hall, where the court is located, were closed to public access for months last spring, limiting daily engagement and testing opportunities for drug court clients who found themselves at an increased vulnerability for relapse.

Hair follicle testing proved itself to be an opportunity for court officials to keep them on track.

With this variety of testing, it looks for drugs within the hair shaft rather than body fluids like urine or saliva. Compared to body fluids, hair follicle testing is highly resistant to tampering with substituting someone else’s urine or doctoring.

Norris said that drug court had money left over from its $75,000 Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services grant, which helps to pay for mental health treatment, medication, addiction treatment and drug testing supplies associated with the court. She estimated the cost around $5,000.

Shawn Dunn, who is leading the testing for the office, explained that officials can get results within minutes just a one and a half inch strand of hair from a client. “We get the hair as close to the scalp as we can,” adding that they can do body hair from arms and legs if needed on the closely shaved males.

The hair sample is then pulverized by the machine and testing for drugs like methamphetamines, opiates and cocaine.

“Due to COVID, we were not able to test as often as we could,” explained Shawn Dunn, who is leading the project.“(With hair follicle testing, we are now able to go back 90 days.”

Overall, out of the first dozen tests that they have done on clients, only two failed and it was a surprise, explained Norris. “No one knew that we were doing it.”

They are looking to increase the types of drugs they are doing the hair follicle testing for to include others like alcohol and fentanyl.

The court was just approved for its second year of its Ohio MHAS grant.


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