The BBC recently reported that all professional cricketers playing in England for the 2014 season had been tested for the presence of drugs in their hair. It follows on from the tragic death of Surrey cricketer Tom Maynard, who was struck by a train whilst high on drugs and alcohol last year, and the coroner’s recommendation that more vigilance was needed on the part of the sport’s governing body.

The ECB explained that the results of the tests would be kept confidential but that anyone who tested positive would be offered advice and counselling.

The ECB currently carries out around 200 urine tests each season on 400 professional players but feel that hair strand testing will add an extra dimension to the existing regime.

Many top cricketers such as Michael Vaughan and Ian Bell endorsed the ECBs new stance on drug taking in the profession and the overall opinion of players sees it as a positive move in the wake of the tragic events surrounding the death of Tom Maynard.

Hair strand drug testing is more effective than other techniques because it gives an accurate insight into long term drug use and misuse. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is also considering using hair testing with the help of a new £6 million fund from the IOC. Currently athletes are tested by blood and urine samples which give an indication of more recent misuse but not long term transgressions.

The desire to crack down on widespread drug misuse in sport has the backing of some big time athletes including Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt. Questioned at a sportsman of the year award in Kingston, he said: “If it’s a new rule and it’s a better way to clamp down on this, then I welcome it.”

All this marks the rise in popularity of hair drug testing as an alternative to the more standard techniques of blood, urine and mouth swabs. It’s already widely used in legal and certain professions to detect long term drug use, and it is set to come into use for sporting organisations around the world as they begin to see it as a method of catching the drugs cheats and retaining their sporting integrity.

Traces of drugs can enter the hair follicle through the blood supply and once there provide a permanent record of use. Drug testing agencies will commonly take 15 to 20 strands of hair for testing which can then be segmented, providing a timeline of usage.
It offers a useful tool for many employers in high-risk industries to keep track of any potential drug misuse by employees, particularly in areas where other people’s lives might be on the line.

Advocates of more detailed drug testing are keen to ensure that natural talent comes to the fore and the impetus seems to be there in sport to do something about it.

With greater technological advances in recent years and faster, more accurate results, hair strand testing is seen as a viable addition, much more so because it is less easy to fix the results.

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