FMCSA Wants Stricter Prescription Narcotics Restrictions

October 28, 2014

By Oliver Patton

SHARING TOOLS        | Print Subscribe

Truck drivers who use prescribed narcotics should not be allowed to drive, say the doctors who advise the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on medical matters. While changing the rules could take years to get through a rulemaking process, a more near-term result could be a change in driver medical exams.

The recommendation by the FMCSA’s Medical Review Board and the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee, approved in an Oct. 27 meeting, would amount to a significant change in medical regulations if it were to become part of the official safety regime.

Right now drivers are permitted to work while taking these drugs, provided the drugs are prescribed by a doctor who is familiar with the driver’s condition.

Any change in that approach would require a formal notice-and-comment rulemaking proceeding, which would require years of work.

The recommendation does, however, signal the deep concern in the medical community about the risks of driving while using Schedule II medications, which include some opioid pain relievers and medications for attention deficit disorder.

The concern arises from research conducted by the agency’s Medical Expert Panel showing that the opioids used in prescription pain relievers add moderate risk to the driver’s job. The research also found that stimulants used to treat attention deficit reduce the risk associated with that condition but can substantially increase driving risk if they are not closely monitored.

Since these medications are now permitted, the board and MCSAC recommended that the current medical guidelines should be revised to include a questionnaire that gives examiners more information about a driver’s condition and medications.

The questionnaire would ask the examiner to list all the medications and dosages he has prescribed, as well as any medications he knows have been prescribed by another healthcare provider. It also would ask what conditions the medications are intended to treat.

The examiner then must say whether or not the medication prescribed, or the condition he or she prescribed it for, would adversely affect the driver’s performance.

The agency will have to clear the questionnaire with the Office of Management and Budget, but it should be available to medical examiners within six months, said Larry Minor, associate administrator for policy and program development at the agency.

Members of the Medical Review Board said the questionnaire will improve safety by giving examiners a better way to account for these medications.

“It will make a difference as far as our examiners are concerned,” said Gina Pervall, medical director for Occupational Medicine Services at Johns Hopkins University.

Will doctors overcompensate?

The decision by MCSAC to accept the board’s recommendation was not unanimous, however. Trucking interests, including American Trucking Associations, were outvoted by the majority.

Rob Abbott, vice president of safety policy at ATA, said he is concerned that the questionnaire might encourage examiners to decline certification for drivers using these medications.

The requirement for the examiner to say if the medication would harm the driver’s performance gives the examiner “everything to lose and nothing to gain” by saying the driver is qualified.

“So it seems like the default answer for many of them will be, well, there’s some level of impairment there so he can’t drive,” Abbott said. “That’s concerning.”

He also worries that the questionnaire could push drivers toward not taking medications that they need.

“I think we have to ask those questions a little more carefully.”

Abbott welcomed the possibility of a rulemaking on the question of whether or not drivers should be able to work while on Schedule II medications.

“A rulemaking would require that we put to the test the notion that there is a need, a real-world safety benefit,” he said. “If we’re confident that there is a problem and this will solve it, then it’s appropriate that we take that step.”

The discussion and voting on the medications issue took place Monday in Alexandria, Va., at a joint meeting of the advisory committee and medical board.

The 20-member advisory panel is made up of carriers, owner-operators, police, labor unions, bus operators and safety advocates who make policy recommendations to the agency.

The medical board has five members, all doctors who serve in leadership positions at leading universities or health care providers.


  1. 1. Thomas Duncan [ October 29, 2014 @ 03:15AM ]

    Am I the only one who notices the never ending effort to create a so called"problem" where none exist?Everytime one person screws up we are all treated as if we are all cut from the same cloth....It is really getting stupid!

  2. 2. Justin Thomas [ October 29, 2014 @ 05:47AM ]

    I have also noticed this effort to create a "problem" that needs some form of oversight by our government. Where will this sort of lunacy end? Pretty soon, there will be no "medically qualified" people to drive trucks if this nonsense is not checked.

  3. 3. molly chambliss [ October 29, 2014 @ 06:36AM ]

    It is amazing how someone is constantly trying to make things harder for honest, hardworking truck drivers. While there are some that should not be allowed to drive even a car, most are professionals that take their job very seriously. Trucking is the largest industry with it touching every aspect of everyone's life. Yet nothing is done to make it any easier. This foolishness needs to stop.

  4. 4. top cat [ October 29, 2014 @ 08:21AM ]

    I have been an owner/operator local for over 40 years, clean record .What is more of a distraction, driving with pain or using medication as prescribed by my doctor? I need to work 3 more years. Too many rule makers with no real world experience

  5. 5. Jeff [ October 29, 2014 @ 08:36AM ]

    blame the drivers who think it's ok to drive impaired. We are getting this because we do NOT police our own industry. I am with the idea on this, too many drivers abuse the scripts they get. Thank your carriers too for they allow, morons, idiots and drug addicts in the industry.

  6. 6. brad [ October 29, 2014 @ 11:36AM ]

    I have been driving since 97' with crone's disease.When I have an attack Tylenol will do nothing for the pain.I don't take the pain meds that have been prescribed to me unless I need them but when I do I have no choice unless I go to a hospital.I love my job.I have never had a problem and if I do I will stop and sleep it off.I have a choice.The car drivers out there need to pee in a cup and show they deserve to be in a car with rest of us that do.I hope Fmcsa runs everyone out of the business.They can deliver the freight all by themselves.This is another doctor scam to rape millions from the trucking industry.A gun to every drivers head to try and make a living all over a physical .One person should not be able to side line a driver with out a second opinon from a different doctor.

  7. 7. haller [ October 29, 2014 @ 01:01PM ]

    The members of the fmcsa have rocks in their heads.. They must do something so they come up with these left field ideas all along missing the bullet every time.. The fmcsa should NOT ALLOW any and ALL truck drivers or people who say they are truck drivers from a foreign country to drive any type of truck in America.... I say this for the sake of SAFTY, and the fmcsa still has no idea what I'm talking about,,, because they have rocks in their heads.

  8. 8. haller [ October 29, 2014 @ 01:11PM ]

    1) driver use of schedule 11 drugs gets scrutiny.
    2)congressmen air concerns about sleep apnea training.
    3)NTSB to FMCSA : Ban hands free phone use.
    4)FMCSA Grants authority to Mexican Carriers.
    The FMCSA people are taking BRIBS from someone, big trucking companies? the Mexican government? Mexican carriers?

  9. 9. Big D [ October 29, 2014 @ 08:21PM ]

    A COMMERCIAL DRIVERS JOB IS A FREAKIN JOKE ANYMORE. no wonder there's a shortage a drivers LMFAO

  10. 10. Stormy [ November 01, 2014 @ 03:35PM ]

    Been there before in 2006:

  11. 11. Robert murphy [ December 13, 2014 @ 06:15AM ]

    Fmcsa is mad up by all Right wing people so it cant be left.

  12. 12. Gail [ January 27, 2015 @ 01:27PM ]

    This is discrimination, the same law needs to apply to all of us not just the CDL drivers. There's plenty of people driving using narcotics. The same should also hold with sleep apnea every American should be required a physical based on the DOT standards. We would see public outrage then and some of the bs would stop.


Comment On This Story

Comment: (Maximum 2000 characters)  
Leave this field empty:
* Please note that every comment is moderated.


We offer e-newsletters that deliver targeted news and information for the entire fleet industry.


ELDs and Telematics

sponsored by
sponsor logo

Scott Sutarik from Geotab will answer your questions and challenges

View All

Sleeper Cab Power

Steve Carlson from Xantrex will answer your questions and challenges

View All