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DOT Changing Drug Testing to Address Opioid Abuse Epidemic

November 10, 2017

By David Cullen

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Image: U.S. Dept. of Transportation
Image: U.S. Dept. of Transportation

The Department of Transportation plans to add four prescription opioids – hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone and oxycodone – to the existing DOT drug-testing panel for screening truck drivers and other "safety-sensitive" transportation workers. The change is part of a final rule to take effect on Jan. 1.

“Inclusion of these four semi-synthetic opioids is intended to help address the nationwide epidemic of opioid abuse,” DOT said in its rulemaking notice, which is to be published in the Federal Register for Nov. 13.

The agency noted that these four drugs that are “already tested for in many transportation employers' non-DOT testing programs because of their widespread use and potentially impairing effect" and that adding them to the required screening will allow DOT to detect a broader range of drugs being used illegally.

The final rule also adds the drug methylenedioxyamphetamine as an initial test analyte and removes the drug methylenedioxyethylamphetamine as a confirmatory test analyte. In addition, the rule does away with the requirement for employers and consortium/third-party administrators to submit blind specimens.

The agency said that the revisions to 49 CFR Part 40 will harmonize DOT regulations with revised Department of Health and Human Services "mandatory guidelines" for federal drug-testing programs for urine testing.

The rule had originally been proposed in January of this year. DOT said it received 52 comments on the addition of the four semi-synthetic opioids to the testing panel. Of those, 41 supported the revision. The agency said those supporters “generally recognized the need for the department to act consistently with the HHS Mandatory Guidelines and agreed that addressing opioid abuse issues in the context of transportation safety is important.”

As for the other 11 comments, DOT said they essentially contended that adding the substances would “increase circumstances in which drivers innocently using opioids (e.g., via a prescription for pain medication) would be unfairly treated as drug abusers, with consequent positive tests harming their careers.”

And a few comments suggested adding still other substances, such as methadone or synthetic cannabinoids, to the panel.

 

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