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Department of Transportation Updates Drug Testing Guidelines

Effective January 1, 2018, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is amending the list of drugs included in its drug-testing program regulations. In a rule published in the Federal Register in mid-November, the agency announced the expansion of its drug testing panel to include these four semi-synthetic opioids:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Oxycodone
  • Oxymorphone

Some common names for these semi-synthetic opioids include OxyContin®, Percodan®, Percocet®, Vicodin®, Lortab®, Norco®, Dilaudid® and Exalgo®.

In 2015, 24 percent of fatal opioid overdoses involved semi-synthetic opioids like the drugs listed above. It’s estimated that 23 percent of the U.S. workforce has used opioids non-medically (without a prescription or for the “high” alone). The four prescription pain medications above are being added to the standard testing panel because they are the prescription pain medications most frequently used without medical authorization.

DOT regulations still permit an employee to produce a legitimate medical explanation for the presence of these drugs in his or her system. However, regulations do not permit the Medical Review Officer (MRO) to question whether the physician should have prescribed the substance.

These additions to the drug-testing panel align DOT regulations with the revised Mandatory Guidelines established by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for urine testing in federal drug-testing programs.

Best Practices for Employers

Between the legalization of marijuana for recreational and medical use in many states, the opioid epidemic and the fact that alcohol is still the most widely abused drug, there are many substance-related issues that employers and their employees need to stay up to date on and continue to be aware of.

We are at somewhat of a mental health crossroads, especially in the construction industry. No longer can substance use disorders or their associated mental health conditions be ignored. Comprehensive drug-free workplace policies and programs are an opportunity for employers to break down stigmas, educate employees about the health and safety implications of drugs and alcohol and encourage those who need help to get it. Employers can play a pivotal role in making a positive difference in how substance abuse and mental health issues are viewed and addressed.

Here are some best practices for employers regarding drug-free workplace policies and programs:

  • Make sure applicable drug-free workplace policies are up to date.
  • Communicate any changes to the policy with all employees and give employees an opportunity to ask questions about those changes.
  • Provide comprehensive drug-free workplace training to employees and supervisors to educate everyone on the health and safety aspects of drugs and alcohol and to train supervisors to handle situations that arise from drug and alcohol use/abuse.
  • Be aware of rehabilitation/assistance resources for employees and where to direct them to get additional information if they request it.
  • Encourage employees to come forward and seek help if they need it.

Assistance Resources

SAMHSA Drug Free Workplace

This site provides drug-free workplace resources for employers, including those related to legal requirements, a drug-free workplace toolkit and additional guidelines and resources.

U.S. Department of Transportation Employer Resources

If you are considered a DOT-regulated employer, you need to know about the regulations, guidelines and supporting publications. This site has been described as a “one stop shop” resource for DOT drug and alcohol related information.

[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Director of Health Promotion.]

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