An employers’ guide to hair follicle drug testing

hair drug testing

Drug tests are very common in organisations. Employers may request drug tests before hiring workers, or they may conduct a random drug test on their employees, to determine drug abuse among workers.

Apart from the commonly known urine test and saliva test, the hair follicle drug test is also an effective form of drug testing, which can detect drug use over the last 90 days. This is why employers often use the hair follicle drug test on their employees, to detect any illicit drug usage in employees. So, what exactly is hair drug test? 

What is a Hair Follicle Drug Test

Also known as hair drug test, is a test procedure that is used to screen a person for any illicit drug use or abuse of prescribed medication over a period of 90 days. Due to its long window of detection, 90 days, it is the most widely used form of drug test, and it can determine the exact drug abused. The test involves the removal of a small amount of hair, preferably around 120 strands, which is sent to a lab for various tests. The tests may not show the exact number of times the donor abused drugs, but it will determine the type of drug used and the quantity used. It is also possible to conduct the test at home using a special test kit. 

Hair drug test may not yield accurate results for drugs used in less than a week. Hair drug test can only detect drugs taken over a week earlier up to 90 days. To detect drugs used within a week’s time, a urine test or a saliva test would be more accurate. 

The Procedure for Hair Drug Test

The test may be conducted at the hospital by an expert, or it may be done at home or workplaces using a special test kit. Several 1.5-inch hair strands are taken from the donor and put under several tests. The samples are taken of the base of the scalp.

If the donor does not have hair on their head, hair from other parts of the body may be used as samples. The results may take 24 hours to know whether the sample is positive or negative. However, a positive result will undergo further tests for confirmation.

Benefits of a Hair Drug Test for Employers

Employers may request the test if they do not trust the behaviour of their workers. In a working environment where abuse of drugs may cause accidents to workers who operate heavy machinery, a regular drug test may be important. This may deter workers from using the illicit drugs, as well as help prevent accidents in workplaces. Sober employees will also increase productivity at workplaces, unlike workers who are under the influence of illicit drugs. 

Advantages of Hair Drug Testing over other Forms Drug Testing 

Larger detection window 

The most common advantage of hair drug testing is its larger detection window. The test can detect illicit drug consumed for the last 90 days, unlike the urine test which has a detection window of 7 days, while the saliva test has a maximum of 2 days. Its ability to detect drug usage behaviour over a long period of time makes hair drug testing more effective. 

Samples cannot be altered by the donor. 

With the hair drug testing, it is difficult for the donor to interfere with the samples provided, unlike the urine and saliva tests, where the donor can easily alter the samples before forwarding them to the expert. The Hair drug test requires that donors give samples, which will be directly collected and observed an expert, thus minimizing chances of cheating in the test.

Can be used in place of urine drug test

For donors with a ‘shy bladder’, a hair drug test may come in handy as a form of drug testing, as it requires samples that do not depend on the body’s response. 

Drug usage evidence cannot be altered by shampoos or any hair product. 

The donor cannot alter the hair drug testing by using any hair product or shampoos on their hair. Experts say that no amount of hair product may interfere with the test. Before the hair strands are pit to test, they are first cleaned to remove any external residue; therefore, the hair product will be washed away and not interfere with the results. 

Disadvantages of Hair Drug Testing

Does not detect recent drug usage.

Hair drug testing can only detect drugs used over the past one week, and not within a week. Therefore it may not be a good form of drug testing to detect recent drug usage. It may not be the best form of drug testing for post accidents drug testing or for tests to determine a cause. 

The test could be expensive for employers. 

However effective the hair drug test may be in detecting drug usage, the test is quite expensive. A single test may cost up to £120; therefore, for employers with several workers, the test could be very expensive for all employees. 

Detects limited drug groups 

The test does not detect alcohol use by donors. It can only detect the use of the following drugs Marijuana, Cocaine, Amphetamines, Barbiturates, Phencyclidine, Opiates, and Expanded opiates. 

Common Misconceptions Surrounding Hair Drug Testing 

Drug users can alter the drug usage evidence using special types of shampoos. This is not true. Hair drug testing results cannot be altered using and shampoo or any hair product. 

Smoke from other drug users can affect the results of the drug test. No, this is not true. When performing the test, experts rule out a positive result of a small percentage of drug usage detected; the small percentage could have been caused by inhaling smoke from other drug users. 

The test can detect habitual drug usage. No, this is not true. The hair drug test cannot detect the number of times the donor used drugs within the 90 day period. The test can only detect the quantity of drug metabolite in the hair sample. 

It is not illegal for employers to conduct a hair drug test on their employees. However, they may face resistance from their workers, and that is why it is important for them to consult a legal advisor before conducting the test. Some prescribed medication may contain the illicit drugs as ingredients; therefore if an employee is found positive of drug usage, they should be able to produce a prescription letter from their doctor.