Ethnic hair products skew drug tests

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  • Published: Sep 7, 2015
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Gas Chromatography / Base Peak

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Ethnic hair products can change the susceptibility of hair to external drug contamination but race or hair colour are not to blame.

These are the latest results in the ongoing controversy about the effects of race on the incorporation of drugs into hair, in which hair type and racial background have become confused. For the forensic community and the legal fraternity, the situation remains unclear due to conflicting research reports. Do Asians, Africans and Caucasians take up drugs in their hair from passive exposure at different rates?

The new work, published in Forensic Science International, suggests that race or hair colour are not factors. However, ethnic hair products are. When they were used on the hair of African, Asian and Caucasian people, the amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine that were taken up, measured by GC/MS, were greater than for untreated hair. In some cases, the contamination was 100-fold higher.

The differences were attributed to components in the hair products. Those containing water and humectants such as glycerol produced a large bias compared with those that were completely oil based. And a small amount had a large effect that would make their users more vulnerable to external contamination from dust, smoke and human contact. Regular use of the products would increase the likelihood of a false positive test.

The findings need to be confirmed on more people of different race, since only three people were tested here, one from each racial background. However, they could help to give a clearer picture because the particular hair products tested tend to be used by Africans, which goes a long way to explaining the higher rate of false positives experienced by this ethnic group.

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