May 28, 2019

From Sarah Carllson, MSW Intern, Trauma Informed Oregon

A common practice within the justice system is urine drug screens (UDS). UDS can be activating experiences for some people, especially those with trauma histories. What we know about trauma is that it disempowers us, it isolates us, and we develop adaptations (that differ from the norm) as a means of survival. We also know that trauma is disproportionately prevalent for individuals involved in the justice system. With this being said, if UDS must be used, how can we ensure physical and psychological safety for those we serve and ourselves?

In response to this question, with the help of Charlie McNeely, Corrie Halladay, and Kelly Myers, we developed a Trauma Informed Urine Drug Screenings tip sheet that can be used to inform the UDS procedure, whether observed or not, with the goal of resisting re-traumatization and facilitating participants’ safety. Included in this tip sheet are guiding considerations, tips, and examples offered by service users and experts in the field of substance abuse treatment.

This survey was vetted by 61 folks who have both administered and taken UDS; 12 people who have solely taken UDS; and 35 folks who have only administered UDS. An overwhelming majority of these recipients agreed that the Trauma Informed Urine Drug Screenings tip sheet addressed all of the core principles of trauma informed care. However, many recipients added that it would be difficult to implement these suggestions in the workplace. My question is this – should agencies be able to conduct UDS in a way that does not feel physically or psychologically safe for the service user? If not, should they be required to use other means of testing that are not as invasive? Please continue this conversation on our discussion forum.