Hair Testing Raises Doubts

Hair Testing Raises Doubts
Posted by FoM on February 19, 2000 at 07:46:59 PT
By William Rabb, Staff Reporter 
Source: Alabama Live
Testing hair for evidence of drug use, which two local private schools are now considering, doesn't provide a fail-safe means of detection and may give false positives disproportionately to blacks, scientific studies suggest. On the other hand, it's very difficult for students to falsify hair samples, unlike urine samples, which can be doctored with Mountain Dew or someone else's "clean" urine, says the principal of one New Orleans school that relies on hair testing. 
"It's worked tremendously well for us," said Reginald Delicia, principal at St. Augustine, an all-male, all-black private high school. Of 750 students hair-tested last year, 12 showed evidence of drug use within the previous three months, Delicia said. A second hair test was done to verify the results and that also came back positive, he said. Those students' parents were notified and the youths underwent drug counseling. Three months later, they were tested again. None tested positive at that time, he said. McGill-Toolen High School and the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science have both talked with Psychemedics Corp., the largest hair-testing company in the nation, about having the company test students and faculty. School leaders must approve the plan before the schools spend as much as $60,000 a year for McGill and $15,000 a year for ASMS on the testing. At McGill-Toolen, parents have approved the plan, and it is now under review by the school superintendent and the archbishop for the Catholic Diocese of Mobile, said the Rev. Bry Shields, president of the 1,100-student school. But Shields acknowledged that he and school officials had done little research into the accuracy of hair testing. "We read the literature from the company that said their results had been upheld in court, and the company people came and talked with us," he said Thursday. Psychemedics' hair-testing methods have been upheld repeatedly in court and are more accurate than urine tests, Bill Thistle, general counsel for Psychemedics, based in Cambridge, Mass., told the Mobile Register on Thursday. He said the tests actually are more accurate than urine tests. No type of drug tests are 100 percent accurate, and samples that show up as positive are usually retested, company information says. But some parents did raise questions about the tests' accuracy. "That was a point of concern," said Kim Smeraglia, who has two children at McGill-Toolen. "But the company has an excellent reputation and has assured us that they don't have false positives." Scientific groups around the country say studies show the hair tests can be inaccurate, can show positive simply from second-hand marijuana smoke, and may give false readings more often for dark, coarser hair. "While the technology of hair testing has progressed rapidly, there remain several highly controversial aspects of hair testing yet to be worked out," said Edward Cone, the lead researcher for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the National Institutes of Health, a federal agency. Cone made the statement in testimony to Congress in 1998. Last year, Cone reiterated his feelings in an interview with the Baltimore Sun newspaper: "The consensus of scientific opinion is that there are still too many unanswered questions for (hair analysis) to be used in an employment situation," Cone said. Hair testing "is not ready for use yet, where people's lives are at stake." Cone could not be reached this week by the Mobile Register. More than 1,500 businesses and more than 50 schools nationwide reportedly now pay hair-testing companies to check employees, students and staff. But the Society of Forensic Toxicologists, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Navy have done tests that raise questions about the effectiveness and accuracy of analyzing hair samples. Other federal agencies also have raised concerns. Dr. Michael Walsh, the drug adviser to presidents Reagan and Bush, questioned the method in an interview with CBS News a year ago. Some companies using hair testing to check employees have been swayed by "good salesmanship and good marketing," Walsh said. CBS did its own testing, sending hair samples from the same eight people to three different labs. The labs correctly identified cocaine use, but missed marijuana use and other drugs, the news show reported. Hair from black people showed up positive, while hair from whites did not, although both had used a small amount of drugs, according to the news show. Psychemedics, which has offered to test students at two Mobile schools, says some of the studies that are widely quoted didn't follow proper procedure. For example, the National Institute for Drug Abuse study reported false positives from hair that had only been contaminated by second-hand pot smoke, not from marijuana use by the person. "They said they only washed the hair for about a minute," Thistle, of Psychemedics, said. "But if you wash it for several hours in chemical solutions, you remove the contamination." Other studies have suggested that melanin, the component that gives hair color, retains drug traces differently, depending on the amount of melanin in the hair. A study by the Center for Human Toxicology at the University of Utah, for example, gave equal amounts of drugs to black rats and white rats. The black-haired rats retained the drugs at rates as much as fifty times higher than the white-haired rats, according to news reports about the study. Psychemedics removes the melanin from all its samples before testing. "You essentially have colorless hair," Thistle said. Published: February 19, 2000 2000 Mobile Register. Used with permission. Related Articles:Hair Testing's Color Blind? Commences Shipping of Oralscreen
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Comment #1 posted by Blue Berry on February 19, 2000 at 12:01:32 PT:
Just what they wanted.
"Hair from black people showed up positive, while hair from whites did not, although both had used a small amount of drugs," No wonder the companies can easily sell this BS testing. It gives just the results the "drug warriors" are looking for......
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