Hair drug testing

Hair drug testing involves collecting hair samples from individuals and analysing them for traces of substances which may have been recently consumed. Although the method cannot assess the level of consumption, it can provide a temporal overview of substances used. Hair drug testing can be used in combination with surveys to validate self-reported information.

hand with glove holding sample of hair with blue tweezers into a lab tube

Background

Prevalence and patterns of drug use among the general population is one of the key epidemiological indicators used by the EMCDDA to assess the drug situation in Europe. This indicator helps us to understand various aspects of illicit drug use among the general population including patterns of use, risk perceptions, social and health correlates, as well as the consequences of the use of illicit drugs. The indicator makes use of a number of tools including drug surveys of the general and school populations, innovative new approaches such as wastewater-based drug epidemiology and targeted surveys including web surveys and hair testing.

Hair sampling is non-invasive and non-embarrassing. For this project, a hair drug test uses a small number of strands of hair, cut from the participant’s head close to the scalp. The hair is usually taken from the back of the head, close to the neck in order not to leave any visible signs.

Each collected hair sample is then screened for drug use. Drugs enter hair through the blood, by sweat and sebum and from the external environment. Hair analysis allows the recreation of the exposure history as, in hair, it is possible to find almost every compound which was ingested in a defined timeframe prior to the sampling. The technique can detect illicit drugs and their breakdown products (metabolites).

About this project

Hair drug testing is another approach for monitoring drug use in a specific setting. This method involves collecting hair samples from participants. Although the method cannot assess the level of consumption, it can provide a temporal overview of substances used. Hair drug testing can be used in combination with surveys to validate self-reported information.

For this study, each participant will need to provide a hair sample and fill in a web-based survey. The hair sample will be analysed and stored anonymously. It will be destroyed after the analysis and will not be used for any purpose other than this study. The web survey was built on the basis of the questionnaire used for the European Web Survey on Drugs.

While not being representative of the general population, these complementary methods, when carefully conducted, nevertheless provide valuable additional information about variations in use among different groups of people who use drugs.

Video: Demonstration of hair drug testing sample collection

Video credit: Alberto Salomone, Department of Chemistry, University of Torino, Italy.

Timeline

Fieldwork (hair sampling and the web survey) will start in the second quarter of 2022.

In this initial phase, samples will be collected in drug-checking services and at music festivals in France, Italy and Portugal.

National partners

France:

Italy:

Portugal:

Contact

For further information, or if you are interested in joining this project, please contact João Matias, Scientific analyst, Public health unit, EMCDDA.

Loading