Hair Follicle Drug Testing

By Sandy Long

There has been a debate going on among trucking companies for several years over whether hair follicle drug testing should be adapted industry wide instead of the usual urine testing.  Some companies such as Schneider and CREngland have adapted hair follicle testing as pre-employment and random testing policy.

Hair follicle testing allows testing for drug use for up to a year previously though the trucking industry says it will only test back 90 days.  To do the test, anyone trained to do so may take 50 to 120 strands of hair, preferably from the head but other body hair will work also, and then seal those hairs into an envelope and send it to the laboratory for testing.  The follicle test is thought of as more accurate than urine testing being able to detect substances dating back 1 month for every 1/2 inch of hair tested.  Drugs tested for by federal mandate are Cocaine (Cocaine and Benzoylecgonine), Marijuana, Opiates (Codeine, Morphine and 6-Monacteyl Morphine), Methamphetamine (Methamphetamine/Amphetamine & Ecstasy), and Phencyclidine (PCP).  These five drug classes are mandated for testing by the Federal Government.

A few of the reasons stated for adapting hair follicle testing over the common urine testing are that the company can see drug use further back in a person’s history, the hair can be collected at the business instead of an employee going to the clinic thereby saving time and productivity, and increased highway safety.  A few people are concerned about urine testing due to hygiene concerns where they may urinate on their hands while using the cup and not able to wash their hands until they return to the lab.

In June of 2011, Gordon Klemp, president of the National Transportation Institute (NTI) said that carriers who have adopted hair follicle testing have had a 10% increase in applicants failing the hair follicle test though they passed the urine test.  Klemp went on to say that in his opinion, hair follicle testing would also lead to a further driver shortage.  “Roughly 25 percent of the driver work force has exited the industry during the past 10 years as a result of demographic and health issues, Klemp said.  The NTI, which Klemp founded 16 years ago, conducts periodic studies of truck driver availability, compensation, and turnover, among other topics.”  Urine testing for drugs costs approximately $40 a test, hair follicle testing costs approximately $150.00.

There are drawbacks to hair follicle testing.  If a root is attached to the hair collected, DNA on the person may be obtained.  According to, hair tests provide “nearly twice the number of positives as urine testing,” but they are not infallible because “after a drug is used, it takes about 7-10 days for the hair containing the drug to grow out of the scalp enough to be cut.  Therefore, the hair test will not include drugs used in the week prior to the test.”

False returns can occur, According to a U.S. Army study, the amount of secondhand cannabis smoke needed to cause a false positive result (failure) is quite large indeed, and would require being sealed in an unventilated car or small room filled with marijuana smokers for several hours.  Hair testing however is a different matter, particularly with passive exposure to crack/cocaine, which can deposit onto hair and be readily incorporated into it.  Though for cannabis, typically only metabolites (produced by the body and thus not found in smoke) are tested rather than THC, so failure is unlikely to result from non-extreme passive exposure.

From “Medical research described in the publication titled “Drug Testing In Hair” reveals a potential bias that appears to be inherent in hair-follicle testing.  According to these findings, hair belonging to people of Caucasian ancestry, particularly blond hair, does not retain drug metabolites as well as that belonging to people of other ancestries.  Such findings open the possibility of future litigation as the previous drug practices of non-Caucasians would be detectable and punishable for longer periods of time.”

While drug testing has been around since Ronald Reagan enacted drug testing in the workplace laws for safety related employees such as airline pilots and truck drivers and will continue to be done in pre-employment and random scenarios, drug testing has spread throughout industry and business.  Many feel that drug testing is invasive and goes into a person’s private lives too far.  It is a moot point, illegal drug use is just that, illegal, it does not matter how a person is found out; though I would rather pee in a cup rather than lose 50 to 120 strands of hair each time my name came up.



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