Magazine article Addiction Professional

Assessing the Effectiveness of Hair Testing

Magazine article Addiction Professional

Assessing the Effectiveness of Hair Testing

Article excerpt

In an attempt to keep up with constantly changing trends in drugs of abuse and individuals' tricks to the drug testing system, the Drug Testing Advisory Board (DTAB) never has a shortage of work to be done. The DTAB conducts research and advises the administrator, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), on the agency's drug testing activities and the drug testing laboratory certification program. The latest project for the DTAB is the evaluation of hair specimens for possible use in the Federal Workplace Drug Testing Program.

Since 1988, organizations that are required to perform federal workplace drug testing have been limited to the use of urine specimens. However, concerns and data have emerged that point up some of the limitations of traditional urine-based testing.

On July 15, the DTAB convened in Rockville, Md., and opened its meeting to the public to present information on the supportability of the hair specimen for federal workplace drug testing and the historical perspective on hair as a drug testing matrix. The meeting also addressed the current thinking on hair specimen drug testing as it relates to:

* Specimen characteristics;

* Collection, preparation and stability;

* Drug analytes, analyte stability;

* Best practices and experiences;

* Proficiency testing; and,

* Hair drug testing data.

Ron Flegel, Chair of the DTAB, says, "We tried to present an unbiased rationale of the science that hair testing provides as well as what other alternate matrices provide." He says with hair testing, there is a longer window of detection. Entities such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and trucking companies pointed out in public comments that it is important for them to be able to look at longer windows of detection when it comes to pre-employment testing.

The technical aspects, as well as the legal aspects--some cases that had been concluded and some that are still ongoing around hair testing--were also discussed.

The presentations also addressed specifics surrounding the various hair colors and hair color bias, contamination, physiological characteristics of hair and how individuals can adulterate a hair specimen. Research has found that hair testing is very difficult to adulterate, but one presentation showed that bleaching or using a flat iron may affect the results of a hair specimen drug test.

Another benefit is the elimination of collection issues associated with urine. According to a press release from Omega Laboratories, "hair testing has consistently identified over three times as many illegal substance users as urine testing in regulated industry preemployment trial programs. …

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