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Hair Drug Testing: What You Need To Know

Hair Drug Testing: What You Need To Know

Last updated on July 28th, 2020 at 12:21 pm

A hair drug test is quickly becoming a popular choice for drug testing and for many employers, the preferred drug testing method for pre-employment and random testing, as well as court-ordered or probation testing. Hair testing allows for the detection of substances like marijuana, heroin, cocaine, opiates, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and many other types of drugs and unlike urine drug screens. Use of hair drug testing can determine if a person has ingested drugs in the past 90 days as opposed to only a 3-7 day look back for urine.

Since hair tests can identify drug use further back in a person’s recent past than a urine test, it is also becoming more common in the legal industry when court-ordered drug testing may be required, like for probation, or divorce and child custody cases that may have mandatory drug testing.

Urine drug tests can only identify drug use for approximately 3-7 days into an individual’s recent past; the look back is dependent on the drugs being tested in the panel. For that reason, hair drug or hair alcohol EtG tests are better suited to detect binge or chronic drug usage over a more extended period.

What if the person is bald? Can body hair be tested for drugs or alcohol?

If the head hair is not long enough or shaved, then a sample of body hair from the legs, chest, or armpits, and occasionally beards can be used instead. Body hair typically grows at a less predictable rate than head hair which is about ½ of an inch per month. Using body hair for a hair follicle test may provide a look back of up to 6 months. A positive hair drug test result does not actually indicate the exact date or dates the drug was used, just that it was ingested in an estimated timeframe within the last 90 days.

Why Is Hair Drug Testing So Effective?

Although it has been around for a while, it is still fairly new technology. Hair testing is very effective if it is administered by a properly trained technician and it is critical that the proper amount of hair is collected and that it is packaged according to the testing laboratory specifications.

Much research on the effectiveness of hair testing over urine has come from the trucking industry as they were earlier adopters of conducting both urine testing, required by the Department of Transportation, while simultaneously conducting hair testing as part of company policy. According to a University of Central Arkansas study, An Examination of the Geographical Correlation Between Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers, it was determined that the effective hair test failure rate was 14.2 times larger than urine for samples. The test data was provided by trucking companies that required drivers to submit both a urine sample and a hair sample.

Unlike urine testing, hair testing is always directly observed since the collector is the one cutting the hair. This means there is no chance to substitute or adulterate the specimen during the collection process like there is in a urine collection.

No matter the type of testing being conducted, if the specimen initial screening yields non-negative results, then it will undergo additional GC-MS (Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry) or LC-MS-MS (Liquid Chromatography, tandem Mass Spectrometry) confirmation testing.  Hair follicle tests for employment should always be reviewed by a certified MRO (Medical Review Officer) before the results are released to an employer. This is necessary to allow the MRO to verify if someone may be legitimately taking a prescription medication and if they are and the MRO can verify the prescription, then the final test report will list the result as a “negative”.

Should you switch to hair testing? Continue to use urine or oral fluid testing? Maybe a combination?

This really depends on your industry, your company goals, and your risk tolerance for drug abuse in the workplace. Adding hair testing has made a significant difference in the trucking industry and for companies that hire for positions that are safety-sensitive. If you are serious about a drug-free workplace, then hair testing is something you should consider.

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About Tom Fulmer

Tom Fulmer, CPCT, is the Vice President of Business Development for National Drug Screening, a nationwide leader in employer drug testing and top provider of drug testing, training, & TPA/Consortium software. Tom writes articles for National publications and presents at conferences. In 2017 and 2018, he won HR.com “Best Customer Service Leadership Training Program” awards and in 2018, he also won a top 10 award for “Best Sales Leadership Training Program”. Tom also conducts training for collectors, employers, and sales and customer service teams.

About National Drug Screening

National Drug Screening (NDS) assists Background screening companies and employers in reducing liability, improving safety, and attracting and retaining better employees by providing drug testing services, supervisor training, Drug-free workplace policy development, and other employer resources. NDS provides MRO services, TPA management software, and training to assist other drug testing service providers to automate and streamline their processes and increase profitability and service. Top 50 Florida Companies to Watch Award winner 2019.