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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Monday, June 15, 1998

CHICAGO -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today told the Chicago Police Department, police unions, the City Council and the media that a new drug-test being used by the Chicago Police Department has been deemed unreliable by the Food & Drug Administration and two other national scientific organizations.

The test is being touted as more accurate, easier to use and able to detect drug use in the past three-to-five months -- rather than the few days or weeks that a urine test can. However, the company that makes it refuses to divulge failure rates and the technology is considered so unproven that no objective study has ever determined how well it actually works.

Manufactured by Psychemedics Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., it uses hair instead of urine to determine whether or not an individual used illegal drugs and it has been labeled unreliable by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Society of Forensic Toxicologists (SOFT) and the FDA. All three have stated that the test should not used as a basis for employment decisions and the FDA has even gone so far as to suggest that marketing the test may be illegal.

The test may also yield racially-biased results. A study by the National Institute of Justice found that hair-testing raises questions of external contamination -- i.e. environmental residues that can cling to or penetrate human hair.

A U.S. Navy study reported that the dark, coarse hair common among African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans is far more likely to retain that contamination, therefore the use of this test will have an even greater chance of error with those groups. Further, the fact that police routinely encounter drugs and drug residues in the line of duty make this an even less appropriate test to use on line officers.

The city is currently using the test to screen out applicants and new recruits who may have long dreamed and now have worked hard for the chance to become a police officer are rejected or terminated solely on the basis of this unreliable test. Of course, this group has little recourse.

The police department reportedly intends to try and expand the use of hair-testing to the entire police force as part of the next collective bargaining agreement. While the number of applicants who have already been disqualified or new recruits dismissed as a result of false positives or other inaccuracies is not known, it is clear that if the entire force is subjected to this highly inaccurate technology, innocent cops could lose their jobs regardless of how long, how well or how courageously they have served and protected the people of Chicago.

The Psychemedics Corporation has sold several police departments and businesses on this test. Unfortunately, since it is completely unregulated, it is free to claim a high rate of reliability and to ignore evidence of inaccuracies.

Recently, one local television station ran a five-minute "Special Segment" describing the test as "super accurate" -- even though they had been given the information from NIDA, SOFT and the FDA weeks in advance. It was not even mentioned.

The station also touted the same company's home hair-testing kit, marketed to parents concerned about their children's possible drug use, which may be even more inaccurate than the one used by the police department. It informed viewers where it could be purchased and even gave out the manufacturer's toll-free number.

It is bad enough to subject public servants to drug-testing without cause but to employ an inaccurate and racially discriminatory system will hurt innocent police candidates and officers while doing little to advance the cause of public safety.

The Psychemedics Corp. hair-test for drugs is ...

The Society of Forensic Toxicologists (SOFT), The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Food & Drug Administration have all stated publicly that hair-testing is unreliable. SOFT has concluded that the results of hair analysis alone do not constitute sufficient evidence of drug use for employment decisions. NIDA has criticized hair-testing as unreliable and stated that it should not be the basis for employment decisions. The FDA has gone so far as to suggest that marketing the product may even be illegal under the Food and Drug Act.

While Psychemedics boasts that their test can identify 5 times to 10 times as many drug-users as urinalysis because it covers a longer time period (3 to 5 months as opposed to a few days or weeks), they do not mention a higher rate of false positives due only to external contamination and the company has refused to divulge the product's overall failure rate.

External contamination, i.e. environmental residues that cling to or even penetrate human hair have been found to be a major problem with this test by the National Institute of Justice. A U.S. Navy study reports that coarse, dark hair (such as that of African-Americans and some other racial minorities) is far more likely to retain this contamination. The inevitable failures of this test is will have a disproportionate impact on those groups.

Taking into account both the potential for racially-biased results and the fact that police officers routinely come into contact with drugs and drug residues in the line of duty, this test is even more unsuitable for application to law enforcement officers.

Although the federal government maintains a voluntary system of certification for drug-testing laboratories, Psychemedics is not certified. In fact, because their technology is considered so unreliable by government scientists, the company cannot even apply for certification. As a result, the company is free to make exaggerated claims for their products and ignore contradictory evidence without fear of regulatory sanctions.


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