Hair Drug Test Debate Heats Up Againby Jana Ritter - Published: 10/21/2015
Last July, the Senate passed a highway bill that included a proposal for Federally mandated hair drug testing for truck drivers and bus drivers. Supporters of the proposal reasoned that hair testing is more difficult to beat than traditional urine testing simply because signs of drug use last longer in hair follicles than in urine. But Edward Wytkind, President of AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD), says otherwise and he is leading the fight to axe the proposal all together.
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While traditional urine testing typically only captures drug use within a couple of weeks, hair-testing uses a follicle of hair to test for signs of drugs within a 90-day period. ATA President Bill Graves has been among the supporters for hair testing and had written to lawmakers urging Congress to approve the transition. "Every day, thousands of hair tests are performed worldwide within both the private and public sectors. Their reason for using hair testing is laudable ... hair testing is an effective tool for identifying drug users due to its long detection window and because it is difficult for donors to beat the test," Graves stated.
But Wytkind is also writing to lawmakers and pointing out reasons to suggest just the opposite, that hair testing is less reliable than urine testing. "It is widely known that hair specimen can test positive for a drug that its donor was merely exposed to but never actually ingested," Wytkind wrote in his letter. He explains that hair absorbs substances that people come into contact with through the environment and labs performing hair tests are currently incapable of distinguishing between drugs that drivers were simply exposed to or what they actually ingested. Wytkind also points out that the DOT has been using high scientific standards to develop procedures for drug testing bus and truck drivers, and urine testing has been a reliable method used since 1991. "By stark contrast, Health and Human Services has not approved hair specimen for use in drug tests, and no HHS-issued technical standards for hair testing exist — and for good reason. Hair testing is not ready for primetime," he added.
Critics of hair testing also suggest that it can discriminate against minorities who typically have coarser follicles as certain drugs bond at greater rates to hair that is darker and more porous, which could make it more likely for minority drivers to be banned from driving.
"We all agree that maintaining a drug-free workforce is critically important to keeping our transportation system as safe as possible. But testing hardworking drivers using an unproven, unscientific and potentially biased measure won’t fulfill that goal,” Wytkind concludes.