Hair Analysis Versus Conventional Methods of Drug Testing in Substance Abusers Seeking Organ Transplantation


Corresponding author: Deborah L. Haller, or


As substance abusers need to demonstrate abstinence prior to transplant, valid/reliable drug tests are needed. Patients may deny use, fearing surgery will be delayed. Breath, blood and urine tests have brief detection windows that allow patients to evade detection. Routine laboratory tests do not include all substances of abuse. Hair analysis overcomes these barriers, increasing the likelihood that active users will be identified. This study compared results for alcohol, opioids and cocaine based on 445 self-report, breath, urine and hair samples from 42 patients who had been denied a transplant due to recent substance abuse. Compared to hair toxicology, sensitivity for conventional drug tests was moderate for cocaine and opioids, but poor for alcohol. Of positive hair tests, only half were corroborated through other tests. In contrast, specificity was high across tests and substances, with positive findings from conventional tests confirmed through hair toxicology. Based on a 90-day detection window for hair analysis, two negative tests suggest 6 months of continuous abstinence. Hair testing should be considered as an alternative approach for monitoring substance use in the transplant population, either as a routine procedure or when the veracity of findings from conventional tests is in doubt.