Feds Scrap Proposed Hair, Sweat, Saliva Tests For Government Workers

Washington, DC: Proposed federal regulations to allow for government employers to collect samples of employees’ hair, sweat, and saliva to test for illicit drug use have been withdrawn, according to speakers at the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association’s (DATIA) recent regulatory summit in Washington, DC.

The proposed changes, introduced in April 2004, sought to amend drug testing guidelines for federal employees by allowing for the use of alternative biological matrices (hair, oral fluid, and sweat) to detect past drug use. Currently, federal regulations only allow government employers to use urinalysis as an indicator of past drug use. Urinalysis detects the presence of inactive drug metabolites (compounds produced from chemical changes of a psychoactive substance in the body), not the drug itself, and a positive test result — even when confirmed — does not indicate recent use or impairment.

Though backed by DATIA and various members of Congress, critics of the amendments questioned the reliability of alternative drug testing technologies, particularly hair and saliva testing. As acknowledged by the Substances Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — which sets and oversees the federal drug testing guidelines — both hair and saliva testing may be negatively impacted by environmental contamination. Hair follicle testing may also yield varying results depending on the person’s race and/or hair color. Because of these potential problems, the agency initially recommended confirming alternative specimen testing with urinalysis, before recently deciding to withdraw the guidelines changes altogether.

The proposed regulations also suggested allowing federal employers to utilize automated, on-site point of collection testing (POCT) immunoassay devices in lieu of laboratory testing.

DATIA criticized SAMHSA’s decision to withdraw the proposal, arguing that the federal drug testing guidelines have remained unchanged since 1988, and that alternative specimen testing is becoming “widespread” in the private workforce.

“DATIA will continue to work on alternative matrices testing as a top agenda item for our activities in Washington, DC,” the group stated on its website.

About 400,000 federal employees, primarily Department of Transportation workers, are subject to workplace drug testing.

For more information, please contact Paul Armentano, NORML Senior Policy Analyst, at (202) 483-5500.