The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is proposing a new rule that would allow federal agencies to use sweat, saliva and hair in federal drug testing programs that now only test urine. The proposal would also allow selected specimen testing at the time and place it is collected.

The proposal is based on scientific advances that will allow use of hair, saliva and sweat specimens to be used with the same level of confidence that has been applied to the use of urine.

About 400,000 federal workers in testing-designated positions — those who have security clearances, carry firearms, deal with public safety or national security, or are presidential appointees — are drug tested when they apply for jobs. Some are subject to random drug testing during their employment. Other federal employees are tested only if they are involved in a workplace accident or show signs of possible drug use.

Under the proposed rule, federal agencies will choose whether to use the new tests. There is no requirement to test hair, saliva or sweat. Agencies will consider their own needs and whether employees may consider these tests less intrusive and less invasive of privacy than collecting urine specimens.

The proposed rule spells out when these alternative specimens and testing devices may be used, the procedures that must be used in collecting samples, and the certification process for approving a laboratory to test these alternative specimens. The proposed rule will be printed in the Federal Register this week and be open for comment for 90 days.

The proposed rule would implement procedures to ensure that all federal agencies split every collected specimen, whether hair, oral fluid, sweat or urine. This added safeguard benefits both the person tested and the agency, by providing a system that would permit the person tested to request an immediate double-check if a specimen comes back from the laboratory showing it is positive for drugs.

The proposed new rule will also shorten the time for negative results to be reported to the federal agency by establishing criteria for a testing facility that will only perform initial tests and not confirmatory tests. The proposed rule also addresses point-of-collection tests or on-site testing kits, as well as people who do the testing. Positive results in the initial testing facility or in point-of-collection tests will still need to be confirmed by a certified laboratory.

SAMHSA is also issuing a new rule to establish standards for certification of laboratories engaged in urine testing for federal agencies. These new standards ensure that validity testing and reporting procedures are uniformly applied to all federal agency urine specimens. This specific revision has been added in response to increased availability in the marketplace of products that attempt to beat drug tests by adulterating urine specimens.

While this is a final rule, comments are requested on one element of this revision having to do with creatinine levels. Creatinine levels are used to help establish whether a urine specimen has been adulterated. Comments are requested because the information on which this change is made was obtained after the close of the comment period on the proposal. This rule becomes final in 180 days.