Can My Company Benefit From Utilizing Hair as a Drug Testing Specimen?

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A drug free workplace is not only likely a safer environment, but it can be more productive.

Data from the US Department of Labor has shown that illicit drug users are more likely to incur worker’s compensation claims, have higher health insurance costs, possess a lower level of productivity, and be more likely to be absent, compared to non-illicit drug users.

To employers, the combined cost of all of the above can be substantial.

Lost work productivity (including absenteeism and poor job performance) associated with substance abuse is estimated at a $197 billion a year in the US.

With an estimated 14.8 million US workers using illicit drugs, the cost to an organization from employing an illicit drug user is around $13K per year.

It’s pretty safe to say that the candidates who are using illicit drugs are aware of the implications of their drug use as it relates to their employability.

Many of these candidates know how to beat a drug test. One way candidates may attempt to beat the test is to simply stop using drugs for a period of time as some drugs have a short half-life or period of detection within the user’s body.

Then there are other candidates that will rely on the information provided by any of the seemingly endless websites that teach and sell ways to subvert the specimen being testing, which may or may not prove effective for the candidate.

Subversion Techniques

Drug testing specimens might be subverted by dilution, substitution (donors can provide a specimen which is not actually theirs), or adulteration (manipulate the specimen in a way where drugs cannot be detected).

Urine drug testing, which is the most popular form of drug screening, can be manipulated by all subversion methods. Hair specimens, by their nature, are impossible to dilute and difficult to adulterate.

One could technically substitute a hair sample by wearing a wig, but because of the sample’s collection process (using a sample harvested from the scalp) substitution is not a likely successful technique.

Detection Window

Hair testing has a big advantage over urine testing, when it comes to laboratory positive detection rates, because there is a significant increase in the detection window with hair testing.

Where drugs are detectable in urine from about four hours to seven days, hair testing can detect drug use from about seven days of use to 90 days.

Hair testing detection period is truncated to 90 days by the laboratories to comply with state statutes.

Hair testing can provide an increased hit rate, which can mitigate risk and facilitate a healthier, safer work environment for your company.

HireRight data from FY2015 shows the Medical Review Officer verified that the positive rate for hair testing is over 5% compared to a urine positive rate in the 2% range.

Many companies who publicize that they conduct hair testing may benefit from the better quality of their candidate pool since candidates who are aware of an employer’s drug testing policy may choose to not apply.

This demonstrates that the best drug test is the one you don’t have to perform (deterring illicit drug users from even applying is a substantial win for any drug free workplace program).

We asked Dr. Todd Simo, HireRight’s Chief Medical Officer and a renowned industry expert, to answer the initial question: “Can my company benefit from utilizing hair as its drug testing specimen?”

His opinion is as follows:

“There are two client profiles where the hair drug test is the ideal specimen.

The first profile is the employer who has a highly safety sensitive workforce where safety is the chief driver for program effectiveness and return on investment.

Think of the oil & gas industry as an example of this type of employer.

The second profile is the risk adverse client who only does pre-employment drug testing.

This group of employers is exemplified by white collar employers (think of insurance and financial services companies). 

If a company only has one shot to detect illicit drug use, the hair test should be utilized due to the relatively long window of detection which provides that specimen with the highest positive rate. 

Both of the two employer profiles can benefit massively by implementing hair testing as their drug testing specimen.”

As Dr. Simo’s response illustrates, industry and risk aversion are major factors in determining the right path for an organization’s drug test process.

While only your organization can determine the best drug testing solution to fit your needs, hopefully this article can provide some food for thought when it comes to the benefits of hair testing as part of your drug testing program.

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Sabrina Lu

Sabrina Lu is a professional writer based in the Orange County area with a degree in Writing from San Francisco State University. Although technical writing was the focus in her studies, Sabrina also enjoys creative writing and the various forms of expression. She values strong opinions and is always interested in learning about different perspectives. Her free time is usually filled with sandy beaches, fluffy animals, fusion foods, and the latest beauty trends.

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The HireRight Blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be comprehensive, and is not a substitute for and should not be construed as legal advice. HireRight does not warrant any statements in the HireRight Blog. Any statutes or laws cited herein should be read in their entirety. You should direct to your own experienced legal counsel questions involving your organization’s compliance with or interpretation or application of laws or regulations and any additional legal requirements that may apply.