DOT expanded drug testing panel to include 4 common opioids
Steps to take now to protect your drivers.
Written By Lucas Kibby
As of January 1st, 2018, the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) is testing truck drivers and other “safety-sensitive” transportation employees for the semi-synthetic opioids: hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone and oxycodone. The drugs are generally taken as pain pills.
The DOT has done this because it is their goal to harmonize with the changes made to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Mandatory Guidelines announced early last year.
According to the announcement, “Inclusion of these four semi-synthetic opioids is intended to help address the nationwide epidemic of opioid abuse. Transportation industries are not immune to this trend and the safety issues it raises.”
What if my driver is already prescribed with one of these drugs?
A driver having a valid MD prescription for a medication that contains any of these opioids and reporting that information at the time of testing will help the MRO in reviewing the results. Having the prescribed amount show positive in the test result will not be considered a positive test.
However, if MROs notice an unnatural amount of the drug in a driver’s system, the MRO will likely want to ask more questions and could result in a positive drug test.
With the rise in opioid addiction, be sure to follow your medication instructions from your doctor. Companies may consider asking for a list of medications from drivers and verifying with a doctor or TPA/Consortium that the strength of these medications won’t cause drivers to test positive.
What Does This Mean For DOT Regulated Companies?
HHS estimates that the cost per urine test would be an additional $0.60 and a 3% increase in MRO costs as additional review and verifications would need to be conducted.
However, the biggest impact this rule could have on DOT regulated companies is that this would increase the percentage of positive tests during Random testing.
FMCSA currently has a 25% random drug testing rate of truck operators, meaning carriers will be required to randomly test 25% of their drivers in the calendar year.
For the random testing rate to go back up to 50%, by rule there must be one year where there is above 1% positive random testing rates among surveyed companies. The most recent data has shown an increasing trend and currently sits at 0.9% positives during random tests.
HHS assumes that adding these four common opioids will cause 1% of those tested should come back positive. That’s right, the random rate should easily be above the 1% threshold and potentially stay there for the foreseeable future.
What can Companies do to protect themselves?
The first step is to double check your drug testing policy. There is no need for employers to make any changes if their current DOT policies refer to adhering to “… Part 40.” But if the policies list the drugs tested in a panel, the policy needs to be updated.
For example, if a policy lists:
“Opiates (codeine, heroin, & morphine)” and/or “Amphetamines (amphetamine, methamphetamine, MDMA, MDA, MDEA)
Then “Opiates“ needs to change to:
“Opioids (codeine, heroin, morphine, oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone)” and “MDEA” will need to be removed from the list under Amphetamines.
Employers could also remove the sub-categories of drugs and just refer to “Part 40”. Likewise, if cut-off levels are listed in current policies, employers must update those cut-off levels or refer more generally to “Part 40”.
Next, we recommend notifying your employees of the changed. While these DOT Agencies suggest that employers provide written notice to employees about their updated DOT policies, doing so is an employer’s prerogative.
We also advise companies to educate employees about the opioid epidemic. Communicate the risk factors for opioid abuse and responsible prescription opioid use, provide support and safe return to work to injured employees, and communicate treatment options, if needed.
Lastly, we recommend offering your supervisors a refresher course to make reasonable suspicion determinations. Do your supervisors effectively enforce your drug and alcohol testing policy? Do they really know what constitutes reasonable suspicion? Companies are the biggest step in catching drug abuse before it causes injury or fatalities.