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A proposed rule authorizing the use of hair samples to test truck drivers and other federal workers has been forwarded to the Federal Register for publication soon, the chairman of a federal drug testing advisory board said Sept. 1.

Ron Flegel, chairman of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s drug testing advisory board, said the agency is seeking public comment and recommendations on the proposal for mandatory guidelines when it is published in the Federal Register. Drug testing using hair samples will offer an alternative to mandatory urine testing for federal employees, Flegel said.

He said the proposed rule addresses previous concerns over any scientific issues using hair testing.

Ron Flegel

Flegel

SAMHSA is a subagency of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for developing and approving the hair-testing rule. “It has been a pretty lengthly process, going through the review process, but I think we are at a point now where it is at the Federal Register, hopefully with publication dates being set,” Flegel told SAMHSA DTAB members at a Sept. 1 meeting.

The hair drug-testing rule has been a long time in the making, due to a process mostly conducted in secret.

It began as a congressional mandate signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2015, but the rule has been delayed for more than four years.

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The reasons for the delay have only partly been revealed to the public, in part due to scientific questions surrounding hair color and potential external contamination of hair samples that could adversely affect drug test outcomes.

Despite the complex science issues, the SAMHSA drug testing board, which did most of the work in crafting the rule for HHS, said it has resolved those issues prior to forwarding the guidance to the White House Office of Management and Review.

That was one year ago. OMB sent the rule back to the drug testing board in July, where it had seemingly continued to languish.

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