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Scientists are always looking for improvements on urinalysis for drug testing. Their efforts are aimed at finding methods that are accurate, inexpensive, and less embarrassing and degrading than "peeing in a cup." One suggestion has been to use hair samples for drug testing.

Hair can be used in testing for drugs because chemicals taken into the body are generally incorpo­rated into growing hair. A substance can first be detected about a week after ingestion and will remain in the hair for many weeks or months. As the hair grows, it carries with it any chemicals that have been ingested. Thus, a single strand of hair becomes a time line that shows the chemicals that have been ingested and the time they were taken into the body.

Experts point out a number of advantages of hair testing over urinalysis. First, hair is easier to handle and store than urine. Second, hair can be tested for the presence of drugs taken over a much longer period of time. Third, a person who stops taking drugs in anticipation of a drug test will not be able to "fool" the hair test. Finally, a hair sample is easier and less degrading for the subject to provide than a urine drug sample.

Hair testing has a number of disadvantages too, though. For example, the procedure only indicates drug use after a fairly long period of time, after hair has had a chance to grow. Someone using an illicit drug today would not produce a positive hair test result for many days or weeks. Also, people who have been in the presence of someone smoking marijuana may test positive for the drug because the smoke con­taminated their hair. In general, many scientists and regulators are still not convinced that hair testing is a valid technique for detection of drugs.

Another form of drug testing that may achieve the necessary goals without the limitations of urinal­ysis uses a person's perspiration, or sweat. In 1995, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of the first sweat test to detect drug abuse. The test is conducted by means of a patch applied to the skin. The patch soaks up sweat and detects the presence of any drugs used during the time it is worn. The patch is designed to remain in place for seven days and is made so that it cannot be removed and then reapplied. It therefore provides a method for testing a subject on a continuous basis for up to a week.

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