In the beginning, urine tests were the most common route of determining if an employee was drug-free. While urine drug tests are still the most common type of drug test given, partially because they are inexpensive and simple to administer, these tests do have their limitations. Hair follicle drug testing provides a closer look at drug-use history. Here is what you need to know as an employer considering hair follicle drug tests for your employees or job candidates.
What Is Hair Drug Testing?
Hair follicle drug testing is a process that involves using a collected specimen of hair from a person’s head to analyze for the presence of illicit drugs or non-prescribed prescription medication. For this test, a test giver will collect hair from the test taker in an inconspicuous area with a pair of sterile scissors, seals that hair specimen in a collection container, and then tests the hair in a laboratory setting.
Hair drug testing can show drug use in the past 90 days or more, but most employers are concerned with only drug levels found in that 90-day window. A few of the drugs that can be detected during a hair follicle drug test include:
How Does Hair Follicle Drug Testing Work?
Hair follicle drug tests are given in a controlled environment, either at a testing center or in a clinical hospital setting. Employers can also obtain hair testing kits that can be used and sent back to a lab to get results. During the test, the administering agent will first go over identifying information with the person being given the test. Then the person giving the test will use a pair of scissors to collect between 100 and 120 strands of hair. The location the hair is taken is most often at the crown of the head, and all of the strands do not have to be taken from the exact same spot if there are concerns taking the hair will leave an empty or bald-looking patch.
The hair collected must be taken right at the scalp, or right at the root of the hair, to give the laboratory a look at most recent drug use. While technically drug use can show up all the way to the ends of your hair, most testers are more interested in the 90 days prior to the test, so much of the end of the strand will be discarded and only a short section of the base used for testing.
Once the hair is collected, it is placed in a tamper-proof envelope to send for testing. During testing in a laboratory, efforts are taken to find specific levels of substances in the proteins of the hair follicle. The cortex of hair strands stores deposits that remain in the body after a drug has metabolized in the system. By examining the cortex of the hair strands, the examiner can often conclude:
- What types of drugs were used
- When the drug was used
- If the drug use was a repeated pattern
What Are the Pros and Cons of Hair Follicle Drug Testing?
Just like every other type of drug test, hair follicle drug testing can have its perks and pitfalls in certain situations. However, hair follicle drug testing is one of the most preferred types of drug tests among employers because this test provides an in-depth look at the prior drug-related behavior of potential job candidates or employees.
Pros of Hair Drug Testing
- Offers a longer detection window than other drug test types
- Shows historical drug-use behavior and patterns
- Almost impossible to manipulate by the test taker
- Detects drugs that metabolize quickly, such as cocaine
- Taken most seriously be test takers, which can deter candidates who know they will not pass
- Works even on people with no head hair because body hair can also be used
Cons of Hair Drug Testing
- Can be a little more costly than basic urine analysis tests
- Results can take a little longer to obtain
- Not a good way to test for current or most recent drug usage
- Not an approved drug test for the DOT
- May not always show only sporadic drug use
Are There Circumstances When This Method Can and Cannot Be Used?
There are certain scenarios when hair follicle drug testing cannot be used, which is a major limitation in areas other than pre-employment screening. Because it can take time for the drugs used to show up in the hair, the hair has to grow beyond the scalp to show results. In other words, you would not be able to take a hair sample from someone who used methamphetamine for the first time today or yesterday and see that they used the drug. It would be feasible to expect it to take five to seven days for the hair to grow enough for the drug to show up as a positive after analysis, according to Healthline.
Because of this limitation, hair follicle drug tests are not federally recognized by the Department of Transportation. Therefore, if you would be testing an employed driver after an accident on the job, for example, a hair drug test would not suffice as evidence of whether the driver was under the influence. Even still, hair follicle tests can be highly advantageous for employers who hire drivers and operators for thorough pre-hiring screening.
It is often assumed that if a person has no hair on their head, they cannot have a hair follicle drug test, but this is actually not the case. hair follicle drug tests can also be performed on body hair. However, the rate of body hair growth is varied greatly compared to head hair growth, so the results of the test can be a little less reliable or a little less in-depth. Additionally, hair drug tests can be performed no matter what type of treatment their hair has undergone. Therefore, if a person’s hair has been chemically treated with perming agents, dyes, or other styling products, it will not affect the outcome of the test results.
Overall, hair follicle drug testing could be deemed as one of the most effective and comprehensive methods for determining whether your employees or prospects have used drugs recently. To ensure the safety of your Tampa workplace, it is highly critical to have a good drug-testing plan in place. Many employers who are serious about screening employees thoroughly choose hair follicle drug testing, and it is an option worth considering.