Hair test better identifies ‘harder’ illicit drug use than urinalysis, truck driver study shows

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 1,589 views 

According to a new study completed by researchers from the University of Central Arkansas, truck drivers who use illicit drugs are using cocaine more than marijuana – contrary to federal reports.

The Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, or the Trucking Alliance, recently released the study showing that twice as many drivers likely would’ve been disqualified from driving if a hair drug test was completed for their pre-employment screening instead of a urinalysis. The Trucking Alliance comprises transportation companies, including Lowell-based J.B. Hunt Transport Services, North Little Rock-based Maverick USA and other large carriers such as Knight-Swift and Schneider.

“Our research found that (the U.S. Department of Transportation) is seriously under-reporting the actual use of harder drugs by truck drivers, such as cocaine and illegal opioids,” said Doug Voss, professor of logistics and supply chain management at UCA. “Our analysis clearly concludes that hair testing identifies these harder drugs at higher percentages than the single urine testing method relied on by the federal government.”

The study compared nearly 1.43 million driver pre-employment urinalysis results reported by the federal government’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse with 593,832 urinalysis and hair test results submitted by Trucking Alliance carriers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration oversees the clearinghouse, but the agency only accepts urinalysis test results, according to the study.

In 2020, the federal agency disqualified 54,955 drivers for failing a urinalysis. Marijuana was indicated as the primary drug from the results. However, the UCA study shows the agency “would likely have disqualified twice that many truck drivers, another 58,910, had they submitted to a hair drug test. Unlike marijuana, cocaine would have been the primary drug among this driver population.”

Asked about the UCA study and whether she agreed with it, Shannon Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association, said she’s not qualified to validate or discredit it. However, she provided the following statement on the subject:

“Hair testing is a scientifically proven method of screening current and prospective drivers, and some carriers prefer it to urinalysis. Our association, along with our national partners, have been urging (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) to do its congressionally mandated duty and issue guidelines that make the use of hair testing a real option for carriers who want to use it.

“It is our desire for trucking companies who wish to use hair testing be permitted to do so, without the administration and cost of duplicative urinalysis tests. The industry as a whole stands to benefit from those tests being recognized and allowed into the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.”

In 2015, Congress directed the Secretary of Transportation to “use hair testing as an acceptable alternative to urine testing” for pre-employment and random testing of commercial truck drivers. The federal government has yet to issue such guidelines.

Following are other highlights of the UCA study:

  • Trucking Alliance drivers passed a urinalysis 269% more frequently than drivers in the clearinghouse.
  • Among the Trucking Alliance drivers who failed a hair test, cocaine was identified 16.2% more frequently and opioids were identified 14.3% more frequently than the clearinghouse urinalysis results.
  • Hair testing detects a higher percentage of harder drugs, such as cocaine, heroin and opioids, compared to a urinalysis. Both drug testing methods can detect marijuana.

“Federal law prohibits truck drivers from using illegal drugs, yet thousands are escaping detection,” said Lane Kidd, managing director of the Trucking Alliance. “Drug-impaired truck drivers are a critical public safety issue, but employing these drivers can be a considerable liability risk.

“Until hair is recognized as a single test method, employers should consider what Trucking Alliance carriers are doing and require driver applicants to pass the required urine test and also a hair test,” Kidd added. “Driving a tractor-trailer while under the influence is a lethal combination, and we must keep these drivers out of trucks until they complete rehabilitation and return to duty.”