How the Fighting Opioid Abuse in Transportation Act Can Save Lives
On May 22, the US Senate Committee on Commerce and Transportation unanimously approved Chairman Thune’s “Fighting Opioid Abuse in Transportation Act,” in response to the national opioid crisis, which has seen 42,000 opioid overdoses in 2016 alone.
This bill, which the American Trucking Associations (ATA) worked with the Senate Commerce Committee to develop, would improve Department of Transportation’s (DOT) drug and alcohol testing program if enacted, and would have great potential to save lives and avoid injuries.
The bill goes beyond fighting the opioid epidemic by including a broader approach to drug testing programs and better reporting of drug testing data.
Here are 5 ways the Fighting Opioid Abuse in Transportation Act Can Save Lives
1. Require that HHS and DOT add fentanyl to the drug-testing panel, subject to findings on availability, reliability, and cost-effectiveness of testing.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid which is sometimes prescribed to treat severe pain, such as in cancer patients. Fentanyl is significantly more potent that Heroin (40-50 times stronger), more potent that morphine (about 100 times stronger), and carries a high risk of overdose.
Illicit fentanyl, manufactured in foreign countries and then smuggled into the United States, is a rising factor in the current overdose epidemic. It is usually mixed into heroin products or pressed into counterfeit prescription pills, sometimes without the users’ awareness, which often leads to overdose.
Late last year, the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) temporarily ordered seven fentanyl-related substances as a schedule I. The DOT has not included the seven fentanyl-related substances to their drug-testing panels as HHS has to go through a process to allow this, which they will not do for this temporary situation.
However, the Fighting Opioid Abuse in Transportation Act will require basically make this permanent, “subject to findings on availability, reliability, and cost-effectiveness of testing”.
2. Expand mandatory random drug testing requirements to both rail mechanical employees and yardmasters.
Currently, many transit (FMCSA and FTA) and aviation (FAA) mechanical employees are subject to mandatory drug testing requirements. It makes sense to expand mandatory random drug testing requirements to both rail mechanical employees and yardmasters (FRA) as it would increase uniformity across modes.
3. Impose a deadline for HHS to issue mandatory guidelines on oral fluid testing and require status reports on the hair testing guidelines.
For the past 25 years, urine has been the standard for drug testing transportation workers and is the only method approved by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). However, newer testing methods that are less invasive and can be much harder to cheat have yet been approved by HHS.
In 2015, the agency issued a notice to add oral fluid testing to mandatory testing guidelines, but it has since taken no action. Adding pressure to get the government caught up with technological improvement only makes sense.
4. Require DOT to create a publicly available database of drug and alcohol testing data reported by employers, and for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the collection, use, and availability of data on drug and alcohol testing and make recommendations to further the utilization of such data.
Currently, many transportation fleets submit their positive random testing rates for an annual survey to measure average positive tests across the industry. The bill would have a database, different from the DOT Clearinghouse database which is currently being worked on, to have employer drug and alcohol testing data publically available.
The better we understand the drug and alcohol abuse across the DOT, the better we can create approaches to save lives.
5. Facilitate the use of electronic record keeping and forms, reducing burden on the regulated public.
Similar to other testing methods like oral saliva and hair testing, technology has improved to help increase efficiencies for paper record keeping and paper forms in the collection and lab testing process. Even with the expansion of electronic Chain of Custody forms (ECCF), many times the collection sites still have to print off paper hard copies of information to send off instead of a simplified electronic format.
Improving efficiencies with electronic record keeping and forms will improve the time and effort during the entire collection process.
CleanFleet supports this bill and hopes improvements could be added for more accountability on service agents like consortiums/third party agencies (C/TPAs) and collection sites. Where labs and MROs must be accredited, C/TPAs and collection sites do not have these requirements.
Below are some areas of improvements lawmakers should consider adding to this bill:
- DOT should require collection site and TPAs accreditation, such as the one that DATIA (Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association) offers
- Require collection sites to staff both genders for observed drug tests
- Require the use of electronic chain of custody form at collection sites
- Standardize DOT Testing training for collectors
- Require collection sites to staff Breath Alcohol Technicians (BATs) and have Evidential Breath Test machines (EBTs) available