Use of Hair for Drug Testing Gaining Momentum By Transportation Companies

By HireRight On September 15, 2011

A recent Psychemedics blog post highlights the increasing acceptance among large motor carriers for performing hair testing as an additional drug detection method for regulated drivers to supplement the drug tests that are conducted in accordance with Department of Transportation regulations. With the heightened focus on the safety of motor carriers and drivers, as evidenced by the FMCSA’s CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability) initiative, motor carriers are exploring new ways to protect the safety of the motoring public. Enhanced drug screening programs, such as by performing hair-strand drug testing, is one such method that is getting the attention of motor carriers.

Hair testing involves using scissors to snip an undetectable sample of head hair, about the width of a pencil tip. The hair is then sent to a laboratory to undergo a complex chemical process that strips the outer layers of the hair in order to analyze the cortex of the hair follicle for evidence of drug use.

Hair testing typically identifies drug use approximately 3 months back, as opposed to urinalysis, which typically detects drug use from the past 48 to 72 hours. The wider window of detection is a distinct advantage for employers looking to identify habitual drug use by applicants or employees. Hair testing is also much more difficult to adulterate or tamper with than a urine test.

Though hair testing could be seen as a duplication of effort since motor carriers will still need to perform a urinalysis to satisfy its drug test requirements, statistical analyses compiled by companies who perform hair testing reveal that there may be a critical gap for companies that rely on urine-testing alone. Psychemedics, the company that pioneered the use of hair testing over 20 years ago, states that 85% of drug users identified by their proprietary hair testing technology would have been missed by urinalysis, which the J.B. Hunt data below supports.

J.B. Hunt, a top for-hire carrier, helped pioneer the use of hair testing by motor carriers. From May 2006 to September 2010, they did a comparison of 45,970 paired hair and DOT urine tests on the same individuals. The results were astounding, with 2987 (6.5%) testing positive with hair tests, but only 488 (1.06%) testing positive with urinalysis. Other carriers like Schneider and C.R. England have also experienced more positive results when using hair testing as an alternative drug detection method.

While the use of hair testing is still relatively new for transportation companies, roughly 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a hair testing program in place. To find out how your drug and health screening program measures against others in the industry, download a free copy of HireRight’s 2011 Employment Screening Benchmarking Report.