Disagreements between NTSB and FMCSA on Synthetic Drugs like K2
Written by Lucas Kibby, CleanFleet
A 2014 crash on Interstate 35 near Davis, Oklahoma has put a spotlight on the issues surrounding synthetic drugs like K2 or Spice.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) ruled in late 2015 that the probable cause of the crash was the driver’s “incapacitation stemming from his likely use of a synthetic cannabinoid.” NTSB investigators found traces of the synthetic drug on a pipe in the cab and a significant amount in the driver’s blood.
Synthetic drug manufacturers trying to stay ahead of the game
State and federal drug investigators for years have tried to deal with synthetic drug manufacturers who change the chemical makeup of these drugs to keep them “technically legal” and a step ahead of the law.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the synthetics are often marketed and sold as “herbal incense” or “potpourri.” There are many drug names, such as Blaze, RedX Dawn, Paradise, Demon, Black Magic, Spike, Mr. Nice Guy, Ninja, Zohai, Dream, Genie, Sence, Smoke, Skunk, Serenity, Yucatan, Fire and Crazy Clown.
Robert Molloy, director of the NTSB’s office of highway safety, said they are concerned about synthetic drugs because they are readily available, shown to be relatively prevalent in an Oregon Department of Transportation Motor Carrier Transportation Division’s anonymous “Operation Trucker Check” driver testing program, and are not something that can be tested for.
NTSB and FMCSA have different visions for the synthetic drug issue
Although Malloy say the NTSB and FMCSA have a good relationship, they don’t agree on the wisdom or ability to determine the prevalence of synthetics among truck drivers, according to Transport Topics.
Scott Darling wrote, in an April 2016 response to NTSB, there is a “disconnect” between the broad prohibitions on drug use and limited drug testing that leaves a gap for the users of synthetic drugs or any other substances not tested to take advantage of.
“However, the gap that exists is due to factors that are beyond FMCSA’ s ability to control,” Darling wrote. “Specifically, designer drug manufacturers are able to modify synthetic cannabinoids so that these substances no longer test as a Schedule I or II drugs faster than the USDA can schedule a particular formula as a controlled substance.
“FMCSA will not expend resources to conduct a research study to determine the prevalence of commercial motor vehicle drivers’ use of synthetic cannabinoids, particularly when there is no sound methodology for conducting such a study.”
The two agencies meet on a quarterly basis to discuss the issue but disagreement among the two federal agencies has yet to be resolved.
“They just looked at this one and said this is so far out of our realm of expertise, we wouldn’t even know where to begin,” Molloy said, according to the Transport Topics interview, but suggested that FMCSA work with SAMHSA’s program that anonymously tests for drugs beyond those on the federally mandated list.
“When we met with FMCSA last, they said that’s something that they would look into,” Molloy said. “They’re just as concerned about the issue of synthetic drugs being used. That’s why they’re taking action on our second recommendation of developing guidelines for the companies, and working through their Medical Review Board to do that.”