Why do I love testing hair specimens for drugs? Let me count the ways…

  1. They are all observed collections (duh)
  2. Approximately a 90-day window of detection
  3. Hair testing is evasion resistant – either by substitution or by adulterating samples or by abstaining for a couple of days.
  4. They are non-intrusive
  5. Easy test repetition; important if results are challenged

How is it possible you ask? Here’s what happens and how it works:

Approximately 100 MG of 1 1/2 inch long hair is collected from the back of the head. This is usually cosmetically undetectable. Hair goes to the lab where it is washed. Now, I know what you are thinking, “it’s just like washing my hair in the shower.” Wrong. Lab washing runs up to EIGHT hours (which is only slightly longer than my teenage daughter spends washing her hair.) This assures that there is no second hand  or environmental contaminations.  The hair shaft then undergoes a type of digestion which extracts virtually 100% of the drugs. Tests are administered and if need be, automatic confirmation is run on non-negatives. Confirmed positive results then go a MRO (Medical Review Officer). The MRO will contact the client to determine if there is a legitimate prescription for the drug(s) involved. If there is not, then a positive test result is reported. BUSTED!

The hair strand is much like a tape recorder. Drugs in an abuser’s blood circulate through the hair follicle where the drugs are deposited in the hair, permanently. It takes 5-7 days for the new hair to get from the follicle to the scalp surface (so recent drug abuse will not show up). Head hair grows a steady 1/2 inch per month. This means 1 ½ inch of head hair equals 90 days.
We also can test body hair when need be. Body hair stops growing when it reaches a certain length. (imagine if it didn’t, yikes!) This look back is typically longer. Chronic drug abusers try to avoid this test.
We had a court-ordered head hair test. A scrawny, 40-year old client showed up with a shaved head. We informed the court and dismissed the client. Later, we received a court order for an “above the belt-line” body hair test on the same client. When the client showed up, he removed his shirt to reveal a poorly shaved chest and underarms. When asked why he shaved his body, he proceeded to tell us that he was getting ready for a big swim meet. We then asked him what events he swam and he was unable to name one single event. At that point, we then informed the court and again, dismissed the client. Failure to provide a specimen is treated as a positive result. BUSTED!
Today, you can get a 5, 10 or even 17-panel hair test! Plus, something called a “limit of detection” test. In many zero tolerance situations, one needs to know when there is absolutely ANY detectable amount of the drug in question.
Did you know that cocaine, methamphetamines, opiates and PCP drugs are extremely excreted rapidly and may be undetectable in the urine after 72 hours? Urine is temporary, but hair is forever. Next time, “Why Randoms Rock.”

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