Safety & Compliance

Hair Testing More Reliable for Detecting Illegal Drug Use, HHS Panel Told

July 23, 2013

By Evan Lockridge

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Hair testing for illegal drug use has gotten a boost following a recent gathering, but it still faces a long way to go before it ever possibly replaces urine testing in trucking.

The drug screening company Omega Laboratories has been assisting the U.S. Department’s Health and Human Services’ Drug Testing Advisory Board with the evaluation of hair specimens for use in the Federal Workplace Drug Testing Program. It says recent concerns and data have emerged challenging the effectiveness of traditional urine-based testing.  

The Drug Testing Advisory Board assembled authorities from across the drug abuse testing industry at its July meeting, in order to thoroughly explore the testing of hair specimens as an addition to the Federal Workplace Drug Testing Program.

Members were given presentations by recognized authorities in the drug testing industry, including the laboratory directors from the three largest U.S-based workplace hair-testing laboratories.

David Engelhart, laboratory director of Omega Laboratories, discussed what he belives is the reliability of hair testing. "Proficiency testing has shown consistent results of the hair testing screening processes across multiple laboratories worldwide."

Public comments at this meeting mirrored those from other DTAB meetings over the last several years, which favored the addition of hair as a specimen for testing. 

Five years of dual testing data from the trucking industry, which included over 200,000 DOT driver candidates from more than 25 different motor carriers, demonstrates that urine testing by itself is no longer effective for pre-employment screening, according to Omega.

Since 1988, organizations that are required to perform Federal Workplace Drug Testing have been limited to the use of urine specimens. Some motor carriers have chosen to go above and beyond the federal requirements and have added hair testing to ensure that they are screening out potentially dangerous employees.

Hair specimen testing proponents say such screening provides a significantly longer detection window, is very difficult to adulterate, and eliminates collection issues associated with urine. As a result, hair testing has consistently identified over three times as many illegal substance users as urine testing in regulated industry pre-employment trial programs. 

The DTAB is an advisory committee for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, who established the board to "improve the quality of systems for drug testing." The decision to evaluate hair testing comes only 18 months after the DTAB fast-tracked the review of laboratory-based oral fluid testing, which allegedly also offers many advantages over traditional testing methods.

Before the U.S. DOT can authorize hair testing for illegal drugs in place of urine testing, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service would likely have to authorize such standards first.

Related Stories:

All That's Trucking Blog: Why is the DOT Taking so Long to Move on Hair Testing for Drugs?

2011 HDT Feature: A Better Way to Drug Test?


  1. 1. Clifford Downing [ July 24, 2013 @ 03:54AM ]

    I would agree it is more reliable for detecting drug use that has occured in the past, but hair testing does nothing about someone who has used in the last 12 hours. Let's face it, this is all about folks wanting to be a nanny to others. If someone was not driving, and didn't even have a CDL, they lived in a state that allowed, say, marijuana use, and 3 months down the road, they then decided to go to truck driving school and get a CDL, they would test positive for cannabinoid use and be rejected. Even though they had not used in a couple of months and knew they couldn't as a commercial driver. And what of the driver that takes a couple of weeks off, goes to Colorado on vacation and gets a little Rocky Mountain High one day? Oh, now he is going to test out as a habitual druggie that can't be trusted to operate a commerical vehicle without getting stoned behind the wheel. This is all about carriers wanting to be the moral arbiters of society and not anything to do with whether a driver is actually impaired while operating a commercial vehicle.

  2. 2. Bill [ July 25, 2013 @ 06:05PM ]

    Both methods should be used together, and ANY drug use ANY time should disqualify someone for driving. Make a choice, stoned or employed. Zero tolerance.

  3. 3. Tommy [ July 31, 2013 @ 05:03AM ]

    I think the oversight should lend itsef to habitual use of these substances. Motor carriers can only test randomly. The characterization of up to the minute testing or use in not relevant. If every driver had to test before operating the truck every time what would the results be. So, with that said I agree that truck drivers need to keep it clean all the time. The use of interlock devices would be a good idea. Maybe all commercial vehicles should be equipped with them.


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