The Department of Health and Human Services announced a set of guidelines in the inclusion of hair specimens for federal drug testing programs, despite racial disparities.

In collaboration with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, DOH will be allowing federal agencies to test workers’ hair, to expand drug testing. Science claims there could be disparities in the collection of hair as samples, especially for people of color.

The Forensic Science International cites problems with the results for a certain ethnicity. This is the reason the agency debunked this type of specimen sample.

Hair Follicle Drug Testing for Workers

This new testing guideline will be part of the pre-employment procedures for all government agencies and part of the random drug screenings. The presence of illicit drug use could mean losing jobs, but variables such as skin color and hair color could affect the result.

Hair testing technology could yield disparate results due to certain variables like exposure to high humidity environment and second-hand environmental exposure. NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano slammed the proposal, citing it as ‘half-baked.’

According to Armentano, “Given the heightened awareness surrounding the need for social and racial equity, the idea of proposing a testing procedure that will inherently deny more people of color opportunities than it would others who have engaged in exactly the same activities is beyond deaf and counterproductive.”

Science claims hair follicle testing possesses limited probative value, the reason for not getting a strong influence on workplace procedures. Back then, authorities working for the federal government also dumped the proposals for the hair follicle sample, as there are limitations and improbable results.

For authorities, hair testing alone isn’t enough, as there should be corroborating evidence, unlike the specimen collected from the urine or blood. On the legal side, the results from hair follicle testing could also be problematic, especially without further evidence on the use of drugs.

Marijuana is included in the drugs prohibited by the federal agencies, as the substance is included in the Schedule I list, alongside cocaine. While several other states legalize the use of recreational marijuana, there are guidelines that could affect an individual’s application upon a trace of cannabis in the drug test result.

Because of the disparities, the Mandatory Guidelines For Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs can authorize other forms of testing, including urine, blood, and oral fluid to detect the presence of drug use. The alternate specimen can be used in the event that the donor fails to provide a sufficient amount of hair samples.

Drug Testing for Workers

Meanwhile, the DHHS is still seeking comments on whether hair test results showing positive for marijuana use should be excluded from the alternative specimen testing. SAMHSA will accept electronic comments for the next 60 days at, or through mail to SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.

In addition to the unreliable results of hair follicle testing, the cost is eight-times higher compared to traditional urinalysis. HHS also said it would only be utilized for about one percent of 275,000 specimens tested annually.

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