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Drug Tests Evolve With Hair Collection & Testing

  • Published: Mar, 19 2020
  • Updated: Mar, 19 2020

Medical science continues to evolve with newer and better techniques to get the results people are looking for. The same holds in drug testing, and one of the newer, more exciting additions to the arsenal that drug test labs have is using hair collection and testing, a technique that has already proven its worth in forensic science and crime investigation.

The Metabolite Phenomenon

The basic idea behind any drug testing is not that the tests look for the presence of drugs or alcohol themselves, but the evidence they leave behind in the body. Both drugs and alcohol get consumed by the body not long after consumption. However, the body reacts to the presence of drugs or alcohols by leaving behind certain byproducts known as metabolites, which remain after the drug has been broken down by the body.

Different drugs leave behind different metabolites, and these metabolites linger in the body for different periods. Alcohol metabolites, for example, are flushed out the system fastest, while metabolites for marijuana and other drugs stay longer. Inevitably, however, metabolites that cycle in the bloodstream or urine eventually gets flushed out, if not in hours, then in days.

The Hair Advantage

This is where hair drug testing differs vastly from older forms. Metabolites don’t just remain in the bloodstream or urine, they are permanently deposited in hair and remain there as the hair grows. This means, unlike other testing methods, that not only does metabolite evidence stay in the hair, but the length of the hair itself can also often act as an indicator when drugs have been consumed.

This is one of the reasons why hair analysis has been so popular in criminal investigations. Not only can a properly collected hair sample provide clear DNA of a person being tested, but it can also even provide a “timeline” in the investigation of chemical-related consumption, such as poison in murder or attempted murder cases.

Proper Training Required

Of course, as useful and informative as hair testing may be for both criminal and drug test investigations, this doesn’t mean that hair testing itself can be casually done. Proper collection of hair samples must be done in a very specific way to observe two major requirements.

The first is that a sufficiently large sample of hair must be acquired. This differs depending on the need. DNA testing, for example, requires the root of the hair is included. For drug testing purposes, a certain minimum length is required depending on how “far back” you want the timeline of possible drug use to be. More months, such as nine months to a year, would require a much longer hair sample.

The other issue is cheating. Hair must be carefully evaluated and collected, especially if no DNA samples are being taken for comparison. As with other testing methods, without proper training and collection, false samples to cheat a test can creep in. If you’re interested in being a part of this new wave of testing, look into hair specimen collection training courses, and start your career in this field. 

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