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The findings made headlines when they came out recently — more Americans failing workplace drug checks than at any time in the last decade.

Quest Diagnostics’s report in September that workforce drug use had reached a 10-year high came from an analysis of more than 10.5 million drug tests that the company conducted for employers in 2015. Most of those tests used urine or saliva. But 200,000 tests were performed on hair, and those tests showed the greatest increase, the report found.

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But those findings might not be what they appear. Hair testing for drug use, available for decades, is a developing science. The tests are offered by a number of private testing companies, and approved by the FDA, but the federal government doesn’t currently recognize hair as a reliable sample for federally regulated programs. And studies over the years have indicated that hair can absorb drugs in the environment and may show higher concentrations in dark-colored hair, leading to possible racial bias.

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  • Back in 2008 i lost my job of more then 9yrs due to a positive hair test. Ine9yrs time i never had a positive test prior. I tested positive for meth. The sample was taken on 11/12/2008, it took till 12/15/2008 to get results back. But i was on probation at the time. All of my U.A. tests for probation were negative. Since then i havent been able to get employment in the work ive done for over 20 plus yrs.

  • Accuracy is a minor issue.

    Drug testing, hair or otherwise, is a repulsive practice that has no place in a civilized society. When the idea was dreamed up, it should have been outlawed entirely, not adopted by the freaking Federal government. I’d call it un-American, but America sold out long ago so I really can’t say that.

    Even the thin justification for people operating dangerous machinery falls apart. If you’re worried about impairment, you should be directly testing for impairment, not worrying about one source and ignoring all others.

  • Nothing much has changed since I wrote my 1998 grad thesis on mass drug testing. See http://bgladd.com/drugwar (my old then-episodically accruing draft comprising about 3/4 of my thesis defense final cut). Hair assays are addressed in Chapter 3 — ‘The business and “science” of suspicionless drug testing.’

  • What’s always missing from hair testing articles is there is an acceptable alternative way to collect, fingernail clippings, which basically have the same growth pattern as hair, so allow the same “look back” up to 90 days and also are not biased. Easier to collect, not as invasive as cutting someone’s hair. Why isn’t this technology being used more?

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