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Hair Strand Drug Test: Definition & Its Advantages

19 March, 2024

A lab technician placing the hair samples in a vial

A hair strand drug test is a method of drug testing that analyses hair samples to detect substances. Typically, the process involves collecting a small sample of hair. Then, the conductor will forward it to a laboratory for analysis. Hair testing offers numerous advantages. Foremost, it can provide a history of drug use. It has the longest drug detection window. Furthermore, it is highly accurate. It minimises the potential for tampering or evasion. Additionally, it can detect various substances.

The use of drugs of abuse is a serious problem that continues to affect individuals. Hence, drug testing is essential to ensure a safe and drug-free environment. Traditionally, urine testing, saliva testing, and blood testing have been the go-to methods for the detection of drug use. However, hair strand testing is gaining traction for its accuracy and a longer window of detection. The following sections will present hair drug testing, including its advantages and how it works.

What is a Hair Strand Drug Test?

A hair strand drug test is a technique that detects drug usage by analysing a small sample of hair. It can identify the presence of illicit drugs, prescription drugs, and alcohol abuse. Accordingly, it stands out for its ability to reveal drug consumption over weeks or even months. It typically has a 90-day window of detection. Nevertheless, it is beneficial for understanding patterns of drug use.

Many industries and organisations opt for hair sample testing. Businesses often employ hair tests as part of pre-employment or random drug testing. They rely on this method to ensure a drug-free workplace. In legal testing, law enforcement agencies utilise hair analysis for various purposes. It can be for parole compliance checks, drug-related investigations, or as evidence of drug use.

Furthermore, healthcare providers may employ hair follicle drug tests to monitor patients in medical settings. By offering a long-term view of drug use, the test helps medical professionals assess the effectiveness of treatment plans. Moreover, in cases of suspected drug abuse, the test can aid in diagnosing and treating drug-related disorders.

Importance of Drug Testing

  • Promotes workplace safety: The method significantly contributes to reducing workplace accidents and incidents. It also enhances productivity and maintains high professional standards.
  • Enhances employee wellness: It aids employers in identifying individuals who may be struggling with substance abuse issues.
  • Supports compliance with regulations: Hair testing allows organisations to comply with regulatory requirements. Hence, it eliminates potential fines and legal complications.
  • Aids in law and legal proceedings: Agencies utilise hair drug tests to strengthen their investigations and support legal actions.
  • Supports effective treatment programs: It helps evaluate the effectiveness of treatment plans and make necessary adjustments.

A professional storing the hair samples in a tube from the petri dish

Advantages of Hair Strand Drug Test

Hair strand drug test provides unique advantages. Foremost, it can detect drug use for up to three months. Hence, this extended window surpasses the capabilities of urine, blood, or saliva tests. Secondly, it offers insights into long-term usage patterns. Its comprehensive view is beneficial for individuals. Thirdly, the nature of hair analysis makes it hard to alter results. Hair specimens provide a more tamper-proof option. It ensures the authenticity and reliability of test results.

Fourthly, hair samples are less susceptible to external contamination. Nevertheless, this factor increases the reliability of results. Also, it reduces the chances of a false-negative or false-positive result. Furthermore, hair sampling tests can identify a wide range of drug classes (whether legal or illegal). Its versatility makes it a comprehensive testing choice.

Moreover, strands of hair are easier to store and transport without particular conditions. It is unlike urine or blood samples that may require refrigeration. Additionally, in legal settings, the detailed historical data from the test can serve as robust evidence. Its strength makes it invaluable in courtrooms and legal proceedings.

Detectable Substances

Hair follicle testing is a highly effective method for detecting a wide array of substances. The test excels at identifying the presence of numerous illegal drugs. These may include cannabis, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, and methamphetamine. These substances can pose significant risks to users.

Beyond illegal narcotics, hair analysis can also monitor prescription medications. It can detect substances like opiates (morphine and codeine), opioids (oxycodone and fentanyl), amphetamines (dexamphetamine), and benzodiazepines. These substances have the potential for abuse or misuse. Additionally, it can trace ethanol. It is an active ingredient in alcoholic drinks. It can impair judgment and motor skills.

Three professionals working in a laboratory

How Hair Strand Drug Test Works

Hair strand drug test works in a sophisticated procedure. The process starts by collecting a hair sample. It is about the diameter of a pencil (90 to 120 strands) and usually 1.5 inches long. If head hair is not suitable or available, they may use body hair instead. After collecting the hair, they secure it in a special envelope or container. Then, the conductor forwards it to a laboratory for testing.

In the facility, technicians prepare the hair by cleaning it to remove any external contaminants. Afterwards, the specimens undergo testing. Professionals may use immunoassay testing to screen the samples. If the results yield positive hair tests, confirmatory testing occurs. The lab applies highly sensitive testing methods such as Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS).

Once the analysis is complete, experts evaluate the results. They can determine if drugs were used, when they were used, and in what approximate quantities. Finally, the laboratory issues a report outlining the findings. The report will indicate whether drugs are detected in the hair sample. Nevertheless, the facility will send the report to the requesting party or individual.

Process of Collecting Hair Samples

Initially, the collector identifies a suitable area on the head of the individual. It ensures minimal visibility of the extraction site. They then select a small section of hair, aiming for a sample approximately the width of a pencil. The collector cuts the hair close to the scalp using sharp scissors or cutting tools.

Once the hair is cut, the collectors take careful measures to maintain the orientation of the strands. Accordingly, the conductor seals the sample in a tamper-evident bag or container. They label it with the necessary identification details and prepare it for transport for laboratory analysis.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a hair strand drug test is a highly accurate and reliable method of detecting drug use. It can identify drug consumption over months through hair samples. Employers, law enforcement agencies, and healthcare providers often employ the testing method. Accordingly, hair analysis provides unique advantages. It has the longest detection window and can provide long-term usage patterns. Additionally, it is hard to alter, less susceptible to external contamination, and the samples are easier to store.

Hair testing can detect a wide range of substances. It can monitor the presence of cannabis, heroin, oxycodone, dexamphetamine, amphetamines, and ethanol. Furthermore, the testing process begins with the collection of hair samples. Then, the conductor sends the specimen to a laboratory. In the lab, it undergoes testing techniques. It may include immunoassay screening and GC-MS. After the analysis, a professional will interpret the results and generate reports.

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