Hair testing for illicit drugs in Australia
Hair drug testing is incorrectly referred to as “hair follicle drug testing”. As a matter of fact, only the hair shaft goes undergoes testing and not the follicle beneath the scalp.
Hair drug tests can quickly and accurately detect the presence of a wide range of illicit and prescription drugs. For this reason, it is the preferred drug testing method for:
- Family law court or disputed child custody situations
- Return to work or proof of abstinence programs (a requirement by a regulatory body or a court diversion program)
The limitations and variations between different types of testing are often poorly understood by the end user.
This guide aims to correct some myths and provide a greater understanding of the finer detail of hair drug testing.
1. Is the hair test result the same regardless of where I send it?
No. There is no Australian standard or regulation that stipulates which drugs you must test for or the cut-offs that a laboratory should use.
This means that a hair sample sent to one laboratory may show the presence of an illicit drug (perhaps at very low levels). But the same sample sent to another lab may show a “negative” result.
This is clearly a very confusing situation.
It is vital to ensure that your hair test has international accreditation. Especially considering the issue of legal defensibility here in Australia.
There is an increase in requests for Safework Health to provide evidence of our accreditation status and basis for result interpretation as part of the result.
Our experience indicates that the use of a local laboratory accreditation and the use of international testing guidelines are the gold standard in Australian jurisdictions.
2. Is all hair collected in Australia analysed in Australian laboratories?
No. Although becoming less common, a large amount of the hair tests for illicit drugs collected in Australia are tested in overseas laboratories
This does have implications for:
- The drugs that we may test for. For example, many US laboratories will test for a number of drugs that are extremely rare in Australia. This is a waste of time and money.
- The acceptability of the results in Australian legal or regulatory environments. There is a limit in the ability to provide expert witness testimony in cases when there is a challenge to the results.
- Turn around time. The results may take weeks or even months for testing in overseas laboratories.
3. Apart from the scientific considerations, what are other factors to consider when using hair testing for illicit drugs?
The main differentiators in service offerings in Australia are:
- Cost. It’s not uncommon to see quotes vary as much as 300% for a single request. Consequently, this does have a significant impact on the end user’s ability to access this type of testing. Because it typically costs hundreds of dollars per test. Safework Health has a policy of keeping pricing as low as possible. It is to ensure the greatest possible uptake of this testing method.
- Turn around time. Some clients have report delays of several months for hair drug test results. In contrast, Safework Health will routinely return results within 5-8 business days of receipt of the sample.
- Provision of an expert witness or supplementary interpretation. Safework Health provide expert comments or interpretation of results to court. Therefore, prior to any engagement of a hair test, please ascertain the ability and cost to provide this service.
Safework Health has seen a rapid growth in our hair drug testing service. Our continued investment in scientific procedures and cutting-edge equipment should see that growth continues over the foreseeable future.
Contact us today to learn more about our hair drug testing services.