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DOT Amends Drug Testing Rule In Response To U.S. Opioid Epidemic

Published by and on December 19, 2017

The long-awaited amendment to the rule regarding Procedures for Transportation Workplace Drug and Alcohol Testing Programs adds four semi-synthetic opioids to the drug testing panel.

On November 13, 2017, the Department of Transportation (“DOT”) amended its drug testing program regulation following nearly a year of comment, research, and deliberation. In its summary of the amended regulation, the DOT said that this revision of the regulation “harmonizes” the amended DOT rule with the revised U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) “Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs,” which became effective October 1, 2017. The amended DOT rule will take effect on January 1, 2018.

Having considered Drug Testing Advisory Board (DTAB) recommendations, private sector experience findings, and analysis of current drug abuse trends, the DOT, like HHS, concluded that four semi-synthetic opioids should be added “to help address the nation-wide epidemic of opioid abuse.” The amended rule adds the following four semi-synthetic opioids to the DOT drug testing panel: hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and oxymorphone. Upon announcing the final rule, Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao stated, “The ability to test for a broader range of opioids will advance transportation safety significantly and provide another deterrence to opioid abuse, which will better protect the public and ultimately save lives.”

In addition to the semi-synthetic opioids, the DOT added methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) to the panel and removed methylenedioxyethylamphetaime (MDEA) as a confirmatory test analyte as redundant since MDA is a metabolite for MDEA. Further, covered employers and consortium/third party administrators (“C/TPAs”) are no longer required to submit blind specimens. Under the amended regulation, the DOT found that the blind specimens were unnecessary in light of improved testing accuracy, and the blind tests imposed unnecessary administrative burden and cost on employers, C/TPAs, and other parties. Finally, the DOT added three “fatal flaws” to the list of when a laboratory would reject and discard a specimen and modified the “shy bladder” process so that the collector will discard certain questionable specimens and proceed under an amended process for the second specimen.

Welter Insight

The amended rule becomes effective on January 1, 2018. Covered safety-sensitive transportation employers should modify their existing drug testing policies now. To determine coverage under the amended rule, use the DOT Am I Covered tool or seek counsel. Employers who are not subject to DOT requirements but voluntarily follow HHS Mandatory Guidelines should review current drug testing policies to ensure compliance under the amended rules.

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