In what will hopefully become a trend, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled that six police officers who had previously been terminated due to failing a hair follicle drug test be reinstated as a positive drug test alone was not adequate proof of drug use. The court felt that the risk of a false positive was great enough that without additional evidence of drug use, the hair follicle test could not be relied on.
Despite 25 years of claims to the contrary by the drug testing industry, the officer’s lawyers were able to convince the court that second-hand contamination could cause false positives.
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The biggest problem with hair follicle drug testing is that it tests for such minute amounts of drug metabolites that for someone like a police officer who is routinely in contact with drugs as part of their job duties, the test is simply too sensitive making it unreliable.
Even for those whose jobs don’t include being exposed to drugs, studies have indicated that 90% or more of US currency has trace amounts of cocaine on it. Simply handling cash could transfer cocaine particles onto one’s hands and eventually into one’s hair either via direct contact or somehow ingesting those trace cocaine amounts (eating while handling cash).
This is a major blow to the drug testing industry which has been pushing both governments and private businesses alike to adopt hair follicle drug testing results as absolute proof of drug use.
In the short-term it will probably not have any significant impact on private employer drug screenings as most jobs are “at will” and employees can be terminated for any reason whatsoever. Though, it may give those facing custody or parole proceedings an opportunity to question what the drug testing industry has deemed as irrefutable evidence.
Even now, the US Department of Health and Human Services considers hair follicle drug testing so unreliable that they do not use it and do not permit employers covered by federal regulations to use it.
Yet private businesses, courts, and state governments routinely use hair follicle drug testing despite ample evidence that the drug test can often produce false positives due to the low levels of detection.
Hopefully more cases like these will rise up through the courts and demonstrate the inaccuracy of the hair follicle drug test so that it can be eliminated once and for all.