Ask the experts: Can hair testing detect one-time drug use?

hair testing

Some employers choose to build their drug-free workplace programs by leveraging multiple specimen types such as oral fluid, urine, and hair. This diversity allows for accurate, reliable, flexible options that can help to meet a variety of program goals and objectives. Hair drug testing in particular, with its longer window of detection, can detect repetitive drug use for up to 90 days. The ability for a hair drug test to produce a long-term drug use history leads many employers to question whether a hair drug test can consistently and effectively detect one-time drug use.

The simple answer is probably not. Jarod Rowland, Laboratory Supervisor at Quest Diagnostics, specializes in hair testing technology. Rowland explained the strengths and limits of hair tests.

“One of the stand-out benefits of hair drug testing is its sensitivity and its long window of detection of up to 3 months of prior drug use. Because of this, hair testing is often referred to as a ‘lifestyle test.’ However, that long look-back window is not necessarily the best way to detect a single instance of drug use in scenarios like post-accident testing. Instead, hair testing is more informative of a repeated pattern of drug usage during the broader detection window. The detection of a single drug-use event is complicated by the extremely small percentage of the total dose incorporated into the growing hair during that single use event.”

If employers want to detect recent drug use, oral fluid or urine testing may be better suited to provide these results. Because detection windows vary by specimen type, some savvy employers incorporate a combination of specimen types into their policies and programs to more effectively detect drug use in a variety of circumstances. Drug-free workplace programs play an important role in helping businesses to combat rising drug use in the workplace. When building a program, consider that the different specimen types tout unique benefits and a better fit for certain drug testing reasons.

To learn more about hair drug testing, join us on May 15 as we comb through the science of hair testing in the final installment of our Back to basics webinar series.

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