Last updated: February 22, 2021
The hair follicle test still has a way to go to be a contender for the most used employee drug test. The urine test wins hands down. It accounts for over 90% of employee drug tests each year. Even so, the hair follicle test is gaining in popularity. It’s more expensive than both the urine and saliva tests, however, employers who use it may consider this test to be more cost-effective because it affords employers a ninety-day detection period!
When you compare the difference between the hours, days, or weeks of detection that other test methods provide to the three months of detection afforded by the hair follicle test, it’s easy to understand why it’s gaining ground.
Determining the detection period
The standard length of hair used for a drug test is only one and one-half inches. Lab technicians cut the hair to test length. They immediately discard the unused portion. Since human hair grows about a half an inch per month, one and a half inches of hair is equal to a 90 day detection period. However, there’s no limit to the length of the hair that’s tested for drugs.
The hair follicle drug test is widely used in court proceedings to determine whether or not drugs have been used over an extended period of time. They, sometimes, request a longer identification period. Laboratories accommodate the request and test longer samples of hair.
Drug metabolites store themselves throughout the body, one place being in the hair follicles. As new hair grows, the metabolites grow out into the center of the hair shaft becoming an actual part of the hair itself. This leaves a permanent record of drug use because there’s no way to separate the drug metabolites from the hair.
There are products on the market, mainly shampoos, and homemade concoctions utilizing acne medication and vinegar—among other things—that claim to “detoxify” the hair, thereby, removing any signs of drug use.
Another method called the “Jerry G” claims to fundamentally change your hair if you follow the 8 step process. It’s weed specific, though, and doesn’t work if the person continues smoking while undergoing the “transformation.” It involves bleaching and then re-dying the hair using a hair dye that contains ammonia. Afterward, the user must wash the hair with “Toxin Rid” and allow the hair to air dry.
Repeat the process ten days later and—presto, change-o!—your hair magically transforms. All you need to do is wash your hair once more with the name brand shampoo on the day of the test and your “guaranteed” to pass.
Now, we feel we should warn you that the article in which we discovered the method stressed more than once that you do not want to use a blow dryer after the bleaching and dying process. Your hair won’t be in any condition to handle the heat.
We wonder how many people show up for this test in shock clutching their frazzled hair sample in their hands.
If ever there was an appropriate place to insert an “smh,” it would be here. Don’t you think?
The Department of Transportation has planned to switch from the urine test to the hair follicle test for several years. However, there have been a few hold-ups along the way. One of which pertained to whether or not hair testing was affected by environmental factors or hair products.
After successfully putting their concerns to rest, the DOT officially entered the request for approval. It’s currently circulating through the chain-of-command and is not expected to meet with resistance at any level.
Considering that many employers of the general workforce mimic the DOT drug testing policies for their own employees, the hair follicle test may overtake the urine test as the most commonly used drug test one day.
Industry stands behind the request
The trucking industry supports the DOT’s decision to use the hair follicle drug test. In fact, some employers in the industry utilize both the DOT drug test and the hair follicle test. They willingly incur the added expense of a second drug test to have access to the lengthy identification period.
It started getting hairy
Scientists created the hair follicle test in the late 1980s in an attempt to come up with drug testing alternatives. Cheaters were discovering ways to falsify the urine test with additives, or even diluting the test by drinking excess fluids.
That’s not the case any longer, however, continued advances in urine testing technology made it increasingly difficult for anyone to tamper with the test results. Still, there’s a risk of an attempt because privacy is required to obtain the test sample.
The technician administers the hair test and the test subject is never out of sight. The technician gathers a group of hairs, about the width of a #2 pencil, from the underside of the hair. Then, using scissors, they snip it as close to the scalp as possible. They prepare the sample for transport and the employee signs off as completing the test.
There’s no way to substitute the specimen and no way to prepare the hair beforehand.
The wave of the future
Will the hair follicle test overtake the urine drug test as the most popular drug test on the market? That remains to be seen, however, it could very well do so after the DOT sets the bar. The advantage of a longer detection window is hard to overlook.
Drugs in the workplace are a thorn in the side of every business owner. Employee drug use causes employers to lose billions of dollars a year due to increased absenteeism, tardiness, frequent doctor’s visits, and lowered productivity.
More importantly, someone impaired by drug use is at higher risk of causing an accident. They put both themselves and everyone around them in danger. That’s the main reason that employers implement a drug-free program.
If you have an employee that tests positive for drug use, do your drug-free policies include passing on a list of resources? Someone who uses drugs is likely to disregard the pleas of friends and loved ones to seek help. They, often, mentally justify their actions in whatever way necessary to just keep on keeping on. However, as their employer, you may carry enough authority in their mind to give them cause for reflection.
A kind word spoken sincerely may be the catalyst that causes them to make a change that, ultimately, can save their life.
We hope so.