Substance Use Monitors: A New Generation of Drug Technicians Empowering Behavior Change, One Drug Test at a Time

Substance Use Monitors: A New Generation of Drug Technicians Empowering Behavior Change, One Drug Test at a Time

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The Nebraska Supreme Court approved the addition of the Substance Use Monitor position, a new generation of Drug Technicians charged with greater and intentional integration of drug testing operations into day-to-day case management. One of the first steps toward establishing an effective success (case) plan is assessing criminogenic risk factors, which includes gathering information about an individual’s current and past substance use. As rates of substance use within the criminal justice system are traditionally high, case management tools often include drug testing. In fact, nearly 75% of adults and 55% of juveniles in Nebraska currently under probation supervision or participating in problem-solving courts have drug testing conditions as part of their court order. While drug testing appears largely compliance-centered, the underlying basis for all probation conditions is to provide support for a positive, productive return to society without further involvement in the justice system. For this reason, the Administrative Office of the Courts and Probation is committed to utilization of evidence-based practices, targeted case management and ensuring ongoing access to rehabilitative services, many of which help to foster recovery from a substance use disorder that might otherwise lead to recidivism if left untreated.

When utilized at an appropriate frequency, drug testing can be a valuable tool for motivating change, managing risk and making informed decisions that best supports an individual in refraining from use of drugs or alcohol. Not only does drug testing provide an objective measure for detecting recent use and the presence of illicit drugs, each test result offers insight to supervising staff and treatment providers when different strategies or levels of intervention may be needed. Thus, the primary goal of the Substance Use Monitor is to assist supervising Probation Officers and the Probation District in monitoring and identifying substance use trends that help inform individual and drug testing program outcomes. Substance Use Monitors are responsible for monitoring no-show rates and test data for other patterns of problematic behavior such as tampering, adulteration and dilution and addressing these issues directly with the individual and their supervising officer. Additionally, they are encouraged to create an open dialogue with individuals regarding test results and to consult with Treatment Officers and Supervising Officers concerning new or suspected problematic substance use.

Of what many would argue is the most important in relation to drug testing is the opportunity for positive reinforcement. This is increasingly apparent among the economic and social stressors the pandemic has contributed to, especially for individuals living with a mental illness and/or in recovery from a substance use disorder. To help understand the value of an empathetic approach, training for all drug testing staff (traditional Drug Technicians and Substance Use Monitors) now includes a Behavioral Health Fundamentals module, which examines the relationship between drug testing and behavioral health and how to offer encouragement in their daily interactions during drug testing. For example, this module discusses how simple, yet meaningful, incentives such as verbal praise for a negative drug test result can provide an additional source of motivation and accountability for an individual struggling to abstain from using substances.

From a leadership capacity, the Substance Use Monitor will serve as a mentor and assist with onboarding new Drug Technicians. This role will manage collection date schedules, ensure random testing and oversee the entry of testing data. Substance Use Monitors have a key role in evaluating an individual’s progress in accordance with protocols and making recommendations for reducing – or increasing – the frequency of testing. With guidance from the Supportive Services Specialist, they might also identify areas of improvements for the District’s drug testing program to better align with best practices, policy and proven efficiencies. This may include leading refresher trainings for officers, conducting research, proposing updates to District protocol, drafting reports and disseminating information regarding substance use trends.

Lastly, this position will be able to participate in an ongoing Community of Practice for Substance Use Monitors with a common passion for professionalizing the field of drug testing. Led by the Supportive Services Specialist, this groups hopes to improve knowledge gaps in each other’s practices, share experiences and successes, collaborate on new ideas, problem-solve barriers and make recommendations for process improvement. Through implementation of effective drug testing practices, the Substance Use Monitor adds another instrumental position to our system that promotes lasting positive behavioral change for safer communities.


Renee A. Faber | Supportive Services Specialist | Rehabilitative Services