Will Hair Testing Ever Be Allowed For DOT Drug Tests?

hair drug testing method

Here we go again, where in the world is hair testing?

Secretary Buttigieg was pressed at a Congressional hearing about where we are at with approved hair testing guidelines so the trucking industry can adopt them.

Senator Moran was disappointed in bringing this up again as it was first brought up in 2015’s FAST act.

Large fleets have long used hair testing for pre-employment, catching 5 to 10 times more drug users than industry standard urine testing. However, currently these positive results cannot be released to the drivers record per DOT regulations or included in the CDL Clearinghouse database as they are non-DOT drug tests.

The Department of Health and Human (HHS) has been working on hair testing guidelines for nearly two decades but hasn’t finished it yet even though the FAST Act placed a Dec 4, 2016 deadline.

This is delaying the Department of Transportation to move forward with the allowance of hair testing as a federally approved drug testing method.

On May 18th, 2017, five Senators sent a letter to Secretary Thomas Price pushing HHS to release the hair testing guidelines.

Finally, HHS wrapped up their 60-day comment period on their long-anticipated proposed hair testing guidelines in November 2020.

As of right now, the proposed guidelines fall short of what the trucking industry has been hoping for.

The problem with HHS hair testing guideline proposal

The biggest problem is that, if hair testing results come back positive, a second urine test is required to confirm the positive test result.

This means a urine specimen must be collected at the time of the hair test or an employee must give a urine specimen by an MRO when reviewing a positive hair test result.

Not only will this create scenarios where a driver could receive a positive hair test result and a negative urinalysis test result, it also creates other issues such as:

  • extra testing costs for confirmation testing
  • longer driver downtime while waiting for test results, and
  • complicated logistics of collectors or labs keeping an authorized second urine specimen for an undisclosed period of time while waiting for the MRO to determine if the specimen is needed for confirmation testing.

According to industry experts, hundreds of thousands of secondary urine specimens per day may need to be shipped to two completely different testing laboratories as some labs do not test both hair and urine and millions of these specimens will be collected, shipped, identified, and eventually discarded for no reason, significantly increasing testing costs to companies.

How does hair testing compare to urine testing?

The biggest problem with urine testing is how many options there are to cheat a drug test. These methods include:

  • synthetic “fake” urine
  • watering down the urine, or
  • slipping in clean urine from someone else

While there are processes in place to catch individuals cheating the system, many people claim to have cheated and never been caught.

Hair testing on the other hand is virtually impossible to cheat when done properly. This is because there is no scientific proof that results can be manipulated by:

  • dying your hair
  • applying hair products
  • detox kits, or
  • any other misconceptions about manipulating test results.

Additionally, hair testing can detect drugs and alcohol in the system from a week to 90+ days, unlike urine testing, which only detects drugs and alcohol up to 7 days.

The vice president of safety and compliance at Werner Enterprises said this about their use of non-DOT hair testing. Quote, “The scary part is, while a driver can be disqualified from driving from Werner Enterprises, they’re able to go to another carrier [that may not use hair testing] because hair testing isn’t recognized under federal regulations.”

“Of the 5,000 positive hair tests in the last couple of years, only a handful of those also tested positive in urine, so only a handful of those would have been reported to the current Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse or to other companies.”

“What was more surprising was the types of drugs we were picking up. The number one drug we see is cocaine, then amphetamines, and then opioids – marijuana is not even in the top tier.”

What is to come?

Senator Moran asked if there is an update or progress to move this opportunity along.

Of course, Buttigieg did not have an answer ready and will pass on information to the senator after the hearing. In other words, more waiting.

However, FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson said at TCA’s annual meeting in Florida earlier this month that “revised proposed guidance will be available for public viewing by summer of this year.”

When HHS releases their final proposed guidelines, the industry will need to wait for the Department of Transportation to go through its rulemaking process to allow the use of hair testing by motor carriers.

While the DOT will likely adopt HHS guidelines, this process could take two years on its own.

Can’t wait for DOT approved hair testing?

At CNS Occupational Medicine , we offer a comprehensive Drug and Alcohol Consortium Service and are a certified consortium and third-party administrator (C/TPA).

Our experts ensure that all DOT rules and regulations are followed, including the implementation of random drug tests for you and your drivers, updating your company drug testing policies, record retention and document purge management.

We take all the necessary steps and precautions to keep you and your drivers compliant with the DOT drug and alcohol testing requirements.

You can call or email us at at 800.551.9816 or info@cnsoccmed.com to learn more.

Please be advised that all articles, blogs and written material are not intended to replace the advice of a physician.

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