Is There a Better Way to Identify Rotten Apples Before They're in the Barrel? A Comparison of Urinalysis and Hair Analysis For Drug-Screening Police Applicants

Document Type


Publication Date



olice departments typically have drug-testing policies such as urinalysis to weed out applicants engaged in drug use. However, hair analysis is becoming more popular. The difference between hair and urinalysis testing technologies for drug screening is the test specimen and the amount of retrospective time that the test can provide. Because of the rapid turnover of urine in the body, urinalysis does not do well at detecting long-term patterns of drug use. Normally, unless or until the hair is removed from the body or chemically dissolved and destroyed, a drug can be detected even several months after ingestion. Data from pre-employment drug screening done by police departments in two cities showed that the number of applicants testing negative was quite high, regardless of test type. For Midwest City, the group for which the two tests were done simultaneously, there were a substantially larger percentage of persons who tested positive by hair analysis than by urinalysis. For Eastern City, these percentages were nearly equal. Applicants knew that they would be required to provide a specimen for drug testing purposes. For the Midwest City applicants, hair analysis was much more likely to indicate previous cocaine use, less likely to indicate “other” drug use, and comparable to urinalysis results in the detection of marijuana use. In 1996, without prior announcement, Eastern City introduced hair analysis. Applicants arrived expecting to be asked to provide a urine specimen. The detection rate increased 3.2 times over 1995. Once the change from urinalysis to hair analysis had been made, the positive rates returned to the range that had been characteristic of the years when urinalysis was the testing method. Policing agencies may want to consider using multiple drug testing modalities in order to maximize the identification of different drugs. 2 notes, 12 references

Was this content written or created while at USF?


Citation / Publisher Attribution

Police Forum, v. 11, issue 2, p. 1-7