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Everything You Must Know About Hair Drug Testing

Drug abuse can have severe consequences in the workplace. It increases the number of accidents, insurance costs, and rate of absenteeism and lowers productivity. As such, hair drug testing can be a reliable method to mitigate these risks and screen employees and applicants who use drugs. 

Hair testing, compared to urine testing, provides more positive results for its long detection time frame and, therefore, is an ideal solution for numerous drug testing programs. So, if you wish to include hair testing as a part of your random testing or pre-employment program, you should know some important facts about the same. You can find the details in the following section.

What Is Hair Drug Testing?

A hair drug test is done to determine the patterns of use of prescription medication or illicit drugs from the hair samples of an individual. Hair follicle tests check different drug classes or a single drug. These tests can detect the following:

  • Cannabis
  • Cocaine
  • Phencyclidine
  • Opiates like morphine, codeine and heroin
  • Amphetamines like MDEA, MDMA and methamphetamine 

Why Is Hair Drug Testing Done?

Drug testing is done for various reasons. Some companies have drug tests as part of their application process, especially for jobs with high risks of injury. Employers also carry out random drug tests for current employees or request them after any serious incident or accident. However, drug testing always requires the written consent of the individual.

What Happens at the Time of Hair Drug Testing?

Hair drug testing occurs in a laboratory, at home or workplace. For the test, a small hair sample close to the scalp is taken by the tester and sent to the lab. Meanwhile, certain foods and prescription meds often result in false positive results. Hence, the samples go through a two-step process to obtain accurate results.

The first step is the ELISA test, and if it produces a positive result, the technician performs GC-MS to rule out false positives.

What Do the Test Results Mean?

The results of hair follicle drug tests are positive, negative or inconclusive. Hair samples producing a positive result undergo the GC-MS test. When positive results are obtained, the lab confirms the presence of a particular type of drug metabolite in the hair sample.

Negative results indicate that no drug metabolite is found in the hair sample. And if something goes wrong at the time of the test or the sample gets contaminated, the lab declares the test results to be inconclusive. In such cases, an individual must provide a new hair sample.

What Factors Affect Hair Follicle Drug Testing?

The factors affecting the concentration of drug metabolites in hair samples are:

  • Colouring and bleaching of hair
  • The amount of hair pigment present
  • How much the individual sweats
  • The number of drugs one consumed
  • Drug compound structure

However, typical styling products like shampoos and conditioners don’t affect the test results.

Can a Hair Follicle Drug Test Be Performed on a Bald Person?

Face or armpit hair can also be used as a sample for drug testing of a bald individual. However, the hair should be at least 0.5-.15 inches in length. An individual with shorter hair needs to provide more hair for the sample. But people who shave their entire bodies can’t provide usable hair samples required for the test. 

Employers are now turning to hair drug tests as an alternative to urine testing. While urine tests are best suited for recent drug usage, hair tests are an effective way to assess long-term patterns. But before you introduce hair tests in your organisation, it’s better to gather information on prescription meds the employees take or else it might result in false-positive results.     

Author Name: Vivek Chaudhary