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What Is Hair Follicle Drug Testing? How Can It Support Your Hiring Practices?

Urine drug tests are considered the gold standard of drug tests in the United States, and for federally-mandated drug tests, they are the only approved option. They are minimally invasive and hard to fake, but they do come with some drawbacks.

Occasionally, the information they offer is unclear, and abstaining from drugs for a certain amount of time before a known urine test may be enough to avoid a positive result outright. This is partly why hair follicle drug testing has become a valued option when screening for employee drug use. Keep reading to learn more about hair follicle drug testing so that you can see what role it might have to play in your company-wide testing.

What Is Hair Follicle Drug Testing?

Hair follicle drug testing involves removing a sample of hair under carefully monitored conditions and testing that hair for indicators of drug use. The significant advantage of this testing type is that it gives a 90-day window into whether drug use had occurred and can be used to comparatively determine when drug use began—or ended—within those 90 days.

This information can be beneficial in a variety of contexts. With this information, a company can decide on internal discipline—for instance, if an employee or candidate volunteers that he or she did experiment with drugs but has since stopped. Detectable substances include:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Methamphetamines
  • PCP
  • Certain opioid compounds.

However, each one of these is identified with varying levels of effectiveness.

One downside, of course, is that hair takes time to grow. Hair follicle drug testing may be the wrong choice if you suspect that someone has only recently been under the influence of drugs. Employers merely looking to confirm, for instance, on-the-job drug use or symptoms during work may need a different measure.

How Is It Different from Urine Testing?

When employees urine and hair follicle samples are tested, many more people “pop positive” with hair follicle tests (though this does vary by testing company). In contexts where being under the influence of drugs could cause significant concerns for your business, it may be worth investing in the hair follicle test for its increased sensitivity to certain drugs. A trusted drug test administrator can assist you with choosing the right “brand” or style of test.

One of the benefits of a hair follicle drug test is that they are impossible to tamper with. The test administrator harvests the small hair sample without giving the individual the option of producing the hair him or herself. While urine tests are difficult to tamper with, an entire market devoted to synthetic urine provides an out for many employees who would otherwise test positive. The hair follicle drug test cannot be faked at all.

The most significant value, of course, is that hair follicles may reveal that a drug use concern has been long-term—a urine test can only detect for indicators of use within the past week to possibly a month for marijuana use alone. While a hair follicle test has varying levels of accuracy for different categories of a drug, it provides information where a urine test may fail. As an employer, you can’t afford not to have the answers to your questions when screening potential employees.

How Is It Different from Swab Drug Testing?

Swab drug testing has a somewhat “opposite” effect: it is easy to do onsite and also hard to fake, but it has a very short window of detection compared to hair follicles. The best result you can get from a swab drug test is a positive one: it indicates the drugs were in this person’s system in the last 48 hours or so.

However, a negative result doesn’t tell you much with a swab test, unless your concern was about consumption during working hours; plenty of active users of drug substances may go 48 hours between uses—especially if they suspect drug testing might be on the way.

As an employer, this ultimately means you may require hair or saliva tests in very different contexts:

  • If the drug you are evaluating for is part of a pattern of addictive use, a hair follicle test may be the better option.
  • If the drug may be recreational or not indicative of long-term addiction, a swab test after you see symptoms may be of more use.

Essentially, hair, urine, and saliva testing all provide different upsides and downsides. However, they should all be considered vital tools as you screen potential employees or seek to protect your current hires. Illegal drug use, of course, describes an employee willing to commit crimes—but there are additional risks if the drugs in question can impair his or her ability to do their job safely. Make sure that you are using the drug tests in response to consistent, work-related concerns: drug tests don’t do anything positive for morale at work.

To learn more about drug testing and how to make good choices when it comes to your drug testing needs as a company, turn to CNet Technologies. We are well aware of the unique nature of each kind of drug test, and we’re happy to be your guide. If you need support when it comes to navigating the world of drug testing, get in touch with us today!

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