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Hair Analysis on the U.S. Drug Testing Radar Again… Maybe

Hair testing is back on the U.S. political agenda but it remains to be seen if the result will be any different this time around. Three years after a U.S. House Representative introduced a bill (H.R.6641) proposing a pilot program to study the benefits of using hair testing, a U.S. Senator has followed suit with a similar bill. Bill S.806, introduced to the Senate last week, would allow DOT-regulated employers to use hair testing as an acceptable alternative to urine testing to detect drug use, misuse or abuse among commercial motor vehicle operators.

Urinalysis is currently the only form of drug screening recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Transportation. However, according to an article published in Transport Topics magazine, some U.S. trucking companies believe hair testing is a more effective screening tool (if success is determined by a higher positive rate). One company cited data that indicated nearly 4,000 of 82,000 drivers tested went undetected for drug use through a urinalysis but were positive for drugs through a hair test.

One of the reasons hair testing would lead to a higher positive drug test rate is that urine testing’s time window of detection is days versus hair testing’s months. Hair testing can provide up to three months of drug history and proponents believe it can better detect habitual drug users.  In DriverCheck’s experience providing hair testing, it is typically used for abstinence and risk-based programs (i.e. child protection agencies) and is more costly than oral fluid or urine testing, though there is growing interest in this type of testing among non-DOT regulated employers in Canada.

Since its introduction in 2012, we have not heard anything further on Bill H.R.6641. The bill was referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit but seems to have stalled. Last week, Bill S.806 was introduced and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Currently, Health and Human Services is closer to adopting oral fluid drug testing than hair testing.  However, if bill S.806 passes, the HHS would have no more than a year after the law comes into effect to issue scientific and technical guidelines for hair testing as a method of detecting drug use.

The U.S. trucking industry, including the American Trucking Association, is urging lawmakers to support the bipartisan legislation – but it will remain to be seen if the pressure will be enough to push it forward.

Do you have questions about hair testing and how it compares to other sample methods? If you do, we encourage you to get in touch with us!