In July, the federal government closed a public comment period on proposed rules governing hair, saliva and sweat drug tests of federal employees. Acceptance by the federal government of the methods will give the private sector more comfort to use them on employees, drug-testing industry leaders say. Opponents of the testing methods see the rules cruising to certain approval. The National Workrights Institute, an employee advocacy group opposed to hair testing, didn't bother to submit comments. "It's a done deal, and it's a very sad deal for everyone except the people who make hair-testing kits," says Lewis Maltby, the group's president.
Chemist Wayne Morris, of Altamonte Springs-based Morris Kopec Forensics, says his company won't do hair or saliva testing because he's uncomfortable with the science. A man can walk through a cloud of marijuana smoke and later come up positive on a hair test even though he didn't smoke any, Morris says. "He's not inhaling the vapors, but the hair is picking up the molecules," Morris says.
Drug-testing companies dispute that assertion and say hair testing is highly accurate. Here's why: Hair tests check for metabolites,or residues, left after the body breaks down a drug. Hair also undergoes extensive washing before it's tested, and threshold levels are set so trace amounts of drugs won't trigger a positive result. Those three things together ensure reliability, says Bill Thistle, senior vice president and general counsel for Boston-based Psychemedics, a leading hair-test provider.
Testing industry pitchmen like Joe Reilly, chairman of the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association, say hair and saliva testing is much easier than urine collection. Employees can swab their mouths or clip their hair in the presence of a witness without embarrassment. On-site collection means less lost time and wages for employers, Reilly says, and convenience for employees.
Urine Lab Test:
Typically can detect drug use that occurred within last 72 hours but may detect marijuana use for last three weeks depending on frequency of use. Can also be tested for adulterants used to try to mask drug use.Cost: $35
Saliva Lab Test:
Will show drug use within last 12 to 36 hours. Tamper resistant. Typically used at the scene of accidents.Cost: $35
A patch collects sweat for seven to 14 days and shows drug use during the time it's worn. Typically used by probation departments or prisons for drug-use monitoring.Cost: $25 to $45
Instant Saliva Test:
Will show drug use within last 12 to 36 hours. Tamper resistant. A positive test result should be confirmed by a lab test to rule out a false positive triggered by an over-the-counter or valid prescription medication. Typically used at the scene of accidents.Cost: $20
Gives a 90-day picture of drug use but doesn't capture use within the past seven days. Yields up to three times more positive results than urine testing.Cost: $50 to $75
Instant Urine Test:
Typically can detect drug use that occurred within the last 72 hours, but a positive test result should be confirmed by a lab test to rule out a false positive triggered by an over-the-counter or valid prescription medication.Cost: $9 to $15
Sources: Quest Diagnostics, Florida Drug Screening, Psychemedics and Pharmchem