Drug Testing: How Fair? 

Drug Testing: How Fair? 
Posted by FoM on February 15, 1999 at 11:44:10 PT
Some labs found drugs where none existed! 
Over the last decade, drug testing has become a common and some say necessary intrusion into our lives. It's used in our legal system, schools, and workplaces. It can be a factor in getting a job or losing one. A snippet of hair is replacing the urine sample as the easiest way to test for drug use
 . But a three-month investigation by CBS This Morning Correspondent Roberta Baskin uncovers serious questions about the reliability of hair testing. The first of her three-part report follows. With so much at stake, the accuracy of a drug test is critical. You would have thought that by now the multi-million dollar drug testing industry would have developed safeguards to ensure that hair tests provide fair, reliable and consistent results. But experts say they aren't there yet. Drug testing is moving out of the bathroom and into the barber shop. A snippet of hair can reveal more information about drug use than a urine sample. Chemical analysis can detect whether you have used cocaine, marijuana, PCP or amphetamines within the last three months, instead of just the last three days. General Motors, Blockbuster Video, and 1,000 other companies around the U.S. are now using hair testing to screen job applicants for drug use. The New York City and Chicago police departments are using hair samples to test recruits. Hair tests have been used as evidence in child custody cases. Schools in Louisiana and Indiana now use them to test students. There’s even an over-the-counter home test available for suspicious parents. According to Ray Kubacki, head of Psychemedics, the largest hair testing company, sales are brisk. He says, "It's in over 10,000 drugstores nationwide and, quite frankly, this is an area that we look at as a building area." For years, scientists have researched hair samples to determine a body's exposure to drugs. Many say it's not yet an exact science. And, they say hair testing should not be used by itself to determine drug use. In fact, the Society of Forensic Toxicologists still stands by its 1990 conclusion that "The use of hair analysis for employee and preemployment drug testing is premature and cannot be supported by the current information." Dr. Douglas Rollins, head of the Center for Human Toxicology at the University of Utah, says, "I don't think it's ready, I think it is premature, and as a scientist I'm concerned about the release of information before it's actually ready to be released." His research on rodents focuses on questions of accuracy and fairness. Rollins found that black hair retains levels of drugs up to 50 times higher than light-colored hair. He is now investigating whether that same color bias exists in human hair. Rollins explains, "For example, the color bias issue, where black colored hair could have higher concentration than blond colored hair. Until these issues are resolved we don't know how to interpret the data that are being generated out there by state of the art technology." At the National Institute of Standards and Technology in suburban Washington, Dr. Michael Welch sent identical hair specimens with various drugs to 19 hair testing labs. Some labs found drugs where none existed, some missed drugs that should have been found. Welch says, "My impression is that experienced laboratories do a good job of determining what drugs are in what hair sample. I think standards certainly would improve the situation. Laboratories could assure themselves and their customers that they were making more accurate measurements on the drug levels in here." Dr. Frederick Smith, a toxicologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says, "I was a champion of hair testing because I believed it showed that a person had actually used a particular drug." What changed his mind? "What changed was the study - first the studies others did and then my own studies have confirmed that hair testing is not reliable," he says. Dr. Smith questioned whether hair tests could distinguish between actual drug use and passive exposure to drugs from environmental contamination. Smith's study checked the hair of known cocaine users. What troubled him were the results from testing their children's hair. Dr. Smith explains, "If you test the children who live there with them you find that you can't distinguish the adults from the children - not only in how many test positive but in how much cocaine is in the hair. The children have as much cocaine in their hair as the adults. I was shocked." The industry says it washes hair to eliminate environmental contamination. But so did Smith, in his hair tests, and the cocaine contamination didn't wash out. Dr. Edward Cone is the former head of hair testing research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. He's studied cocaine contamination and its existence in our environment. He says, "We looked at just paper money and found that at least eight out of every ten pieces of paper currency that's in your wallet right now is contaminated with cocaine." He continues, "Hair testing has a lot to offer possibly. But it's not ready for using it in situations where people's lives are at stake," he says. "If their job or liberty is at stake, hair testing is questionable." Despite the concerns raised by scieentists - hair testing laboratories deny any major problems. Ray Kubracki of Psychemedics, says "as a matter of fact, there are major studies that address those issues specifically. And there's also practical experience. We've done over 2 million tests. We've got clients, some of whom have been testing for over 10 years. So that's kind of the proof in the pudding." This week, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences is meeting in Orlando to tackle some of these issues. In the meantime, those marketing hair tests continue to say it's a fair, accurate, proven way of detecting drug use. But the federal government, the largest employer in the country, chooses not to use hair tests to check its workforce until some of these scientific questions are resolved. In part two of this series, some promising police recruits lose out because of the results of pre-employment drug tests on their hair - results they say were wrong. See it Tuesday on CBS This Morning, and here on 
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Comment #1 posted by Bethany on January 31, 2001 at 09:07:08 PT:
drug tests
isn't there some kind of way we can test for drugs instead of using urine. i am doing a speech in class and i need some information.i would appreciate it . thank you very much..  respond ASAP
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