HHS sends hair testing guidelines to White House for review

August-September 2019

Mark Schremmer

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ final rule regarding the use of hair testing for drugs was sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget on June 11.

It was expected to be months, however, before the department’s guidelines on hair testing are made public. As of early July, the final rule was still listed as “pending review.”

“When the specific guidelines are released, OOIDA looks forward to sharing our concerns about hair testing, including certain biases toward hair color and texture, during the public comment period,” said Jay Grimes, OOIDA’s director of federal affairs. “Additionally, OOIDA has not seen any evidence showing any connection between hair testing and crash reduction.”

After HHS releases its guidelines, the U.S. Department of Transportation would still have to go through the rulemaking process before they could apply those guidelines to truck drivers.

The request for hair testing guidelines was originally part of the 2015 FAST Act.

Urinalysis satisfies the current drug and alcohol testing requirements by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. However, many large fleets currently require their employees to undergo hair and urine testing. The American Trucking Associations and Trucking Alliance have pushed for FMCSA to require hair testing as a method for detecting the use of a controlled substance.

OOIDA, as well as other groups, has been critical of the use of hair testing. The Association contends there is no evidence to support the allowance of hair testing.

“The Trucking Alliance has yet to demonstrate that they have experienced a reduction in crash rate since their voluntary adoption of hair testing,” the OOIDA Foundation wrote in a one-page briefing report on the topic. “Neither have they presented evidence showing that their hair testing labs meet the rigorous standards of scientific methodology for testing or that their hair testing equipment and protocol has been consistent and unbiased.

“Other issues with hair testing which have yet to be addressed include the problem that different individuals grow hair at different rates and that it takes much longer for metabolites to appear in hair than in urine.”

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice called hair testing “unreliable and discriminatory.”

In an opinion article for The Hill published in 2017, Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Boston-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, and Larry Willis, president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, wrote that testing of hair for controlled substances isn’t accurate.

“Imagine being denied work – not because of your qualifications or work history, but because a drug test required for employment comes back positive for a drug you never used,” the article stated. “Now imagine learning that the test result could have been influenced by the color and texture of your hair. Sadly, this isn’t a plot of a sci-fi movie.

“Hair tests can lead to false positive results because certain drugs – like cocaine – which are found on common surfaces, including dollar bills, can be absorbed into hair. There is currently no way to fully cleanse hair of these drugs.”

As part of the guidelines, HHS is required to “eliminate the risk of positive test results of the individual being tested caused solely by the drug use of others and not caused by the drug use of the individual being tested.”

Grimes added that the Association is optimistic that hair testing will not be a mandate for motor carriers. LL

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, staff writer, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and nearly two decades of journalism experience to our staff.