Federal Government Wants To Use Unreliable Hair Drug Tests

A federal agency is seeking to add hair testing to the government’s arsenal of workplace drug screening tools, despite evidence that the process is unreliable and may lead to racial bias. The proposed rule change by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which was published in the Federal Register last week, comes even though the tests have been rejected by the government several times in the past.

If adopted, the rule change would allow hair testing for workers employed by federal agencies and federally regulated industries. SAMHSA wrote in the proposal that “hair testing potentially offers several benefits when compared to urine,” including “a longer window of drug detection.” 

Process Is Unreliable

But because the process can return a positive result months after drug use, it is not a reliable indicator of impairment. Additionally, studies have shown that hair drug testing results are influenced by hair color. Because darker hair absorbs more drug metabolites than lighter colors, the results of the tests can be unfairly biased against members of the Black and Hispanic communities.

The agency admitted the existence of “scientific evidence that melanin pigments may influence the amount of drug incorporated into hair,” noting that “codeine

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