Determination of drug exposure using hair: application to child protective cases

Forensic Sci Int. 1997 Jan 17;84(1-3):123-8. doi: 10.1016/s0379-0738(96)02054-3.


The use of hair as a specimen for the determination of drug use remains controversial. Scientists disagree upon whether environmental drug contamination (e.g. smoke) can be differentiated from actual drug use. Children whose parents use drugs (particularly crack) at home are considered to be at risk. Using the hair of the children to determine exposure gives extra credibility to the child protective services and allows them to remove children from dangerous households. Children are tested when there are credible reasons for suspecting drug exposure. In Blackhawk Country, Iowa, this program was implemented in late 1994, and since then many children have tested positively for drugs, the majority of the hair containing cocaine or methamphetamine. In some cases, cocaethylene and benzoylecgonine were also found in the hair of the children. While the presence of benzoylecgonine can be explained by exposure to crack smoke, the presence of cocaethylene suggests ingestion of cocaine and alcohol. Blackhawk Country Juvenile Court have found the program to be so useful in helping children, that they have extended hair testing from Child Protective allegation investigations to ongoing court cases and even delinquency hearings.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amphetamines / analysis
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Child Abuse / prevention & control*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cocaine / analogs & derivatives
  • Cocaine / analysis
  • Crack Cocaine / analysis*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Hair / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Program Evaluation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*


  • Amphetamines
  • Crack Cocaine
  • benzoylecgonine
  • Cocaine