Drug testing in NSW – what you need to know

Ever wondered what will happen if you’re stopped on the roads to undertake drug testing?

While the source may seem questionable (it’s from a website called Junkee!), an online article has provided a good snapshot of what you need to know about drug testing on NSW’s roads, or roads in any state or territory in Australia for that matter.

In NSW, during the 2016/17 period, around 112,000 drug tests were carried out on NSW roads. This resulted in approximately 8,500 positive tests. By 2020, NSW is expected to conduct 200,000 roadside drug tests every year.

So, if you haven’t experienced drug testing on NSW’s roads yet, you’re likely to in the future. And here, according to Junkee, is what will happen:

  • The NSW Police will ask you to put a small oral swab in your mouth. The swab can detect drugs in your system in a matter of seconds.
  • Currently, in NSW, drug testing can detect cannabis, MDMA, cocaine and amphetamines. The swabs can detect a wider spectrum of drugs if required, but these are the drugs that are being looked for at the moment. Cocaine was only recently added (July 2018) to the list of drugs able to be detected.
  • If the oral swab test comes back negative; good news, you can drive away.
  • If, on the other hand, the drug testing comes back positive, you’ll be asked to get out of your car and you’ll be taken to a roadside facility for a secondary swab test, conducted by a more sophisticated process.
    • If you pass this test, you are OK to return to your vehicle and can drive off, but your sample will be sent to a laboratory for further analysis. If this analysis picks up any trace of the 4 drugs mentioned above, you’ll face a further court date and an automatic disqualification of your license. The standard disqualification is 6-months for a first offence and a minimum fine of around $500. You may receive a court conviction.
    • If you fail the secondary test, you will immediately have a 24-hour driving ban and, like above, your sample will be sent to a laboratory for further analysis.

While the Junkee article provides a good explanation of the process in NSW in regards to drug testing, there are some aspects of the article that are potentially misleading. In particular, the article implies that roadside drug testing has a structural flaw, in that it can catch people who may have taken drugs in recent times but are still safe to drive. It uses the example of cannabis, which the article claims can stay in your system for in excess of a week. NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge is quoted as saying, “The sensitivity of the tests that are done by the police pick up tiny trace elements of cannabis,” says Shoebridge. “Which would have no measurable impact upon your driving, but can still see you facing a loss of a licence and serious criminal penalty. That does happen, and it happens all too often, and is a big structural flaw in roadside drug testing.”

This opinion is, in our belief and experience, not correct. In fact, oral or saliva drug testing is considered the most accurate way of determining if someone is fit to be driving (or at work). That’s one of the reasons we recommend saliva drug testing for our workplace clients.

It’s perhaps best left to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, who say that detection periods for drugs include:

  • Cannabis can be detected in roadside drug testing for at least several hours after use. “The test cannot generally detect use in previous days or weeks, although there have been reported cases of people testing positive to cannabis a few days after consuming.”
  • MDMA and amphetamines can be detected for approximately 24 hours after use.

The ADF’s general advice is simple: “Most drugs take 24 to 48 hours to leave your body and will continue to affect you during this time. Combinations of drugs can take even longer.”

It is also worth noting that the drug testing process on NSW’s roads is done in accordance with the Australian Standard AS4760-2006, which is the same Australian Standard that Integrity Sampling’s drug testing process adheres to.

Note: In case you were wondering, Junkee is an online pop culture website. It claims to go beyond the heading to give young Australians a fresh take on what is happening in their world.


Ever wondered what will happen if you’re stopped on the roads to undertake drug testing? Credit Highway Patrol Images https://bit.ly/2BCVUri

By Michael

Michael is the founder of Integrity Sampling and is responsible for overseeing all national operations. He is based at Integrity Sampling's head office in Melbourne and is also responsible for the co-ordination of drug and alcohol testing within Victoria, assisting in the implementation of drug and alcohol (fit for work) policies and the presentation of drug and alcohol education and awareness programs. You can connect with Michael Wheeldon on LinkedIn

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