Hair could hold the key to drugs testing
English cricket is set to step up its drug-testing procedures as a result of the death of Tom Maynard.
Surrey batsman Maynard was accidentally killed on a train track last June but it was revealed at his inquest he was high on cocaine and ecstasy, as well as drunk, at the time. It also emerged that the 23-year-old had been a regular user of recreational drugs for at least three-and-a-half months prior to his death.
This was discovered through analysis of a hair sample and the coroner recommended cricket introduce such screening techniques to test for illicit substances in future.
The England and Wales Cricket Board, in conjunction with UK Anti-Doping and the Professional Cricketers' Association, currently conduct around 200 random tests each year, all on urine samples. Yet urine can only provide information for a short period of activity and in the case of cocaine, which exits the system quickly, this might only be for the previous 24 hours.
A hair sample offers a much longer timeframe and, if the strand is long enough, can detect drug use dating back several months. Dr Tom Bassindale, a leading forensic toxicologist based at Sheffield Hallam University, said: "That is the major advantage of using hair. For monitoring social and recreational drug use it makes a lot of sense.
"For cocaine, for example, if you were testing blood you might only have 12-24 hours. With urine it would be 24-36 hours. With hair it is as long as the hair. Hair grows about one centimetre a month.
"In the Maynard case they mentioned three-and-a-half months, which suggests they had a hair sample three-and-a-half centimetres long.
"It is a very good method, and used in conjunction with urine testing. The two work well together. Urine is good in competition, whereas hair gives you the longer picture."
The ECB tests both in competition and out but, in accordance with World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines, their out-of-competition tests are for performance-enhancing drugs only.
The ECB roughly defines out of competition as any day on which a player is not involved in a match during the season. This is one area where testing is likely to be increased.