DOT Proposes Testing for More Drugs, Lowering Existing Threshold on Others

February 18, 2010: The U.S. Department of Transportation has published a proposed rule that would toughen its workplace drug-testing program for truck drivers and other transportation workers, including testing for the drugs “ecstasy” and heroin.

The new proposed rule also would lower cutoff levels for cocaine and amphetamines and authorize employers to use test facilities certified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to conduct initial drug testing, according to a statement by Jim Swart, director of DOT’s Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance.

Swart said the rule is intended to more closely align much of DOT’s program of direct-observation urine drug-testing with stringent HHS drug-testing guidelines.

DOT said it would take comments on the proposed rule until April 5. The drug-testing proposal has been on DOT’s rule-making radar screen since 2004, when HHS revised some of its mandatory workforce drug-testing guidelines for federal agencies.

“In this rule, we are seeking to harmonize our proposals for laboratories, collectors, medical review officers and employers with the new requirements contained in the revised HHS mandatory guidelines,” the new proposed rule said.

Annette Sandberg, a transportation consultant and former administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said during a Feb. 5 investors conference call hosted by Stifel Nicolaus Capital Markets that she didn’t expect the new drug-testing standards to be implemented soon.

DOT is busy with more urgent trucking issues such as hours-of-service and electronic onboard recorders, Sandberg said.

The new rule noted that while HHS has estimated incidence and prevalence are low, 10% more users of amphetamines and cocaine may be identified using the new, tougher cutoff standard.

DOT said its data supports that conclusion. From July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009, the DOT’s regulated transportation industry program had 14,440 positive laboratory results for amphetamine and 15,675 for cocaine in more than 5.4 million tests.

Because of the low incidence data, DOT said it does not believe the tougher standards will be costly or burdensome from a record-keeping standpoint.

The agency said it does not intend to change its drug testing policies in order to comply with all the suggested HHS guidelines.

For instance, DOT will not require drug test observers to receive advanced, formal training to learn the steps necessary to perform a direct observation collection.

DOT also does not intend to change the duration of paperwork retention requirements for collectors. Although HHS will require keeping the records for two years, DOT said it believes 30 days is sufficient.

DOT also said it would not change its requirements that medical review officers keep records of negative test results for one year and non-negative results for five years.

DOT also said it believes HHS guidelines requiring it to conduct audits at 5% of collection sites, or a maximum of 50, is not needed.

“We have had few if any laboratory accuracy problems over the history of the program, and we believe we can continue to ensure that this pattern continues while reducing burdens and costs on participants,” said the proposed rule, which was published Feb. 4 in the Federal Register.

By Eric Miller for Transport Topics

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