Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Firms Find Effective Way to Detect Drug Use: Hair DRUGS IN THE WORKPLACE

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Firms Find Effective Way to Detect Drug Use: Hair DRUGS IN THE WORKPLACE

Article excerpt

MANY people visit their barber or hairdresser before showing up for an important job interview. Now some job applicants are getting an extra trim during the application process.

As United States companies attempt to keep drug users off their payrolls, a relatively new screening process that uses hair samples is becoming increasingly popular. It is considered more accurate and less intrusive than urinalysis.

That's good news for Boston-based Psychemedics Corporation, the only company that commercially markets a drug-testing method using hair called RIAH, or radioimmunoassay of hair. The company, founded in 1987 by Werner Baumgartner, turned its first profit last year. The company has more than 325 corporate clients, including banks, manufacturers, retailers, mining operations, hotels, and casinos.

According to some government studies, two-thirds of drug users are currently employed, and 44 percent admit selling drugs to coworkers. "The real key to beating the drug problem in the United States and in the world is really not going to be supply reduction ... it's really going to be demand reduction," says Raymond Kubacki Jr., president of Psychemedics.

As drugs are ingested, the deposits are absorbed into the bloodstream and become entrapped in the core of the hair. These ingested drugs remain in the hair and cannot be washed or bleached out and do not diminish with time. Because hair grows at a rate of about one-half inch a month, the hair closest to the head holds information on a person's drug use for the past month. Psychemedics' process, which Mr. Kubacki says works on all hair types, uses a 1 1/2 inch hair sample containing 50 to 60 strands (about the thickness of a pencil point).

RIAH tests for five standard drugs: cocaine, marijuana, opiates, methamphetamine, and phencyclidine (PCP). The process liquefies the hair and then chemically analyzes the sample, much like urinalysis. The company says it retests all positive samples.

Although hair analysis has only captured about 1 percent of the drug-testing market so far, it has numerous advantages over the far more common urinalysis, Kubacki says. …

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