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What is a Hair Follicle Drug Test?

The hair follicle drug test is one of the three primary employee drug testing methods used by employers. It is also beneficial for schools, parents, and anyone else that needs to rely on drug testing for assurance that someone is clean and sober.

The name implies that hair follicles are used for the test. This causes some people unfamiliar with this testing method to wonder if technicians pull hairs from the head with the hair follicle still intact. That is not the case. Drug metabolites are what drug tests are seeking. They are stored throughout the body. The hair follicle is one place that they get deposited. They, then, grow out into the center of the hair shaft becoming part of the hair itself.

Conducting the hair follicle test

This test is the least intrusive of all the testing methods. There is no reason to utilize the privacy of a restroom, so the test can be conducted anywhere.

The test subject reports to the designated testing area and completes the identification process. The testing technician uses a pair of scissors to snip a small section of hair (about 120 strands) from an inconspicuous area on the head as close to the scalp as possible. With that, the test is complete.

The hair is bagged. Then it is off to the lab for testing. It takes about a week to receive the results.

The determining factor for using this amount of hair is due to the fact that hair grows inconsistently. A lesser amount could produce inaccurate results.

The pros and cons

In addition to the fact that it is convenient and requires no privacy, there are other advantages to the hair follicle drug test. Results are highly accurate and there is no way to falsify them. Also, obtaining the specimen is undoubtedly more sanitary than either the urine or saliva tests.

Lastly, the idea of a 90-day detection window appeals to some employers. It takes about 5 days for drugs to show up in new hair growth, but once it’s there, it’s there. On average, hair grows 1/2 inch a month. The standard test length of the hair is one and a half inches, thus the 90-day window. If requested, the lab can test longer strands of hair yielding a more lengthy period of detection.

Actually, only two known con exists. First on the list is the cost of this test. It is more expensive than either the urine or saliva tests. However, the 90-day detection window pertains to all drugs and alcohol, as well. Secondly, the return of the results is not as soon as either the urine or saliva tests.

However, employers who rely on this test are obviously willing to overlook these minor issues for the added benefits.

Popularity may grow

We will note that the DOT (Department of Transportation) is planning to begin using the hair follicle test instead of the urine test. The timing coincides with pending legislation regarding the DRIVE Act. If passed, it will give under 21-year-olds the green light to operate big rigs state to state.

Most employers choose the urine test because it is the one that has been put in place for federally mandated drug testing. If employers continue to “go with the flow” and switch from the urine test, eventually, this could result in bringing prices down.

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