The federal government is reviewing whether to expand its existing employee drug-testing guidelines to include analyzing hair for evidence of illicit drug use, reports Newsday. As screening methods for hair, saliva, and sweat have improved in recent years, there has been a long-running debate over whether these should be added to the current gold standard, the urine test. Urine testing can find traces of a drug for about five days after being ingested; trace amounts of a chemical substance entrapped in the cortex of a hair strand can be found up to three months later.
In July, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration backed away from a proposal that would allow federal agencies the leeway to include saliva, sweat and hair testing along with urine tests. A spokeswoman said the plan was in its final version but was withdrawn because several government agencies had expressed concerns. The agency extended the review process after gaining access to new research related to hair analysis that raises questions about environmental contamination and drug absorption. “It is important to note that the hair has to be tested by reliable methodology,” said Dr. Bruce Goldberger of the University of Florida College of Medicine. “Historically, this area of testing for drugs in the hair has not been regulated to any extent, so the methods and the techniques haven’t been standardized.”