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  • Health practitioners face hair testing for drug use

    Author: Karen Keast

Nurses, midwives, doctors and allied health professionals with restrictions on their registration linked to past substance abuse will soon face routine hair testing.

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and 14 National Boards will introduce mandatory hair and urine testing for health practitioners who have restrictions on their registration.

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About 200 health practitioners nation-wide are now being monitored for drug and alcohol screening.

Hair testing, which provides a longer term analysis about a wide range of drugs, will screen for amphetamine type substances, benzodiazepines, cannabis metabolites, cannabinoids, cocaine metabolites, opiates, anaesthetic agents, anxiolytic agents, synthetic/semi-synthetic opioids, designer stimulants, synthetic cannabinoids, halucinogens and alcohol.

AHPRA’s monitoring and compliance teams oversee health practitioners and students with limitations on their registration or those with registrations that have been suspended or cancelled, in its work to protect the public and manage risk to patients.


Chief Executive Officer
Alexandra District Health
Sonographer Tutor
Frontline Health Brisbane

Under the move, AHPRA will have a screening protocol that reflects international best practice, enabling the agency to keep pace with drug misuse trends.

“It will make sure drug screening in the National Scheme is evidence-based, effective and up to date,” AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher said.

Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine Professor Olaf Drummer prepared a report for AHPRA, Testing for Impairing Substances in Health Care Professionals, reviewing the agency’s interim drug screening protocol, introduced in July last year.

In it, he states hair is a “useful specimen for the analysis of drugs of abuse”.

“Studies have shown that most, if not all drugs and poisons are secreted into hair following exposure.

“Hair is particularly useful to establish drug use many weeks to months prior to collection, since specimens such as blood and urine will only provide evidence of use from hours to at most a few days.”

AHPRA is now seeking expressions of interest from pathology providers that can deliver drug screening services to support AHPRA’s monitoring of practitioners with drug-related impairments.

The announcement comes after AHPRA recently launched new safeguards to examine the international criminal records of some health practitioners.


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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords