A test case about racial bias in hair testing began on Monday after a Boston police cadet was fired over a positive drug test. Keri Hogan was on a promising track to join the Boston police academy before a drug test using her hair samples turned up positive for cocaine.
Hogan disputed the test’s validity and claimed hair tests were discriminatory due to Black hair being more prone to prompting false positive results.
Hogan, 39, along with a group of African-American cops, brought a lawsuit against Boston in 2005 over the hairy situation. The hair testing trial could have far-reaching effects on how police use hair as indicators of drug use, The Associated Press reported. But some scientific questions remain about Hogan’s case.
One of those questions focuses on the reliability of drug testing. It’s not easy for a test to determine whether drugs were actually ingested by someone or were absorbed into hair strands from the outside environment, experts have said. Urine screenings are commonly used to test for drugs—hair has become a method for indicating drug exposure, though it can not necessarily pinpoint how that exposure came to be.
Hair tests can detect drug use or exposure as far back as 90 days, and sobering up quickly before a test will not stop a positive result, according to Health Street.
Hogan and the officers involved in the case have said that they are not drug users. Hogan subsequently underwent an independent hair test that came back negative, she said. But why the difference in results between that police test and the second one?
To weigh the differing outcomes, many things will have to be considered. For one, cosmetic treatments used by Black folks can damage hair cuticles, which increases the risk that their tresses become contaminated by drugs in the environment. Also, scientifically speaking, cocaine can bind to melanin, which is found in higher concentrations in darker hair, experts told The AP. Psychemedics, the company that performed testing for Hogan on behalf of the Boston police, stands by the results.
What can’t be questioned is the negative effect that the negative drug test has had on Hogan.
“To this day, I struggle with the feeling of stigma and embarrassment I face whenever I encounter a Boston police officer or former colleague. I can tell they do not look at me the same way,” Hogan said in an affidavit filed last month.
The case has already taken so much for Hogan, the other officers suing Boston and the city itself. The 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has heard the case twice, and the city has paid out $1.6 million in its defense in the last 13 years.