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Department of Transportation to Update Drug Testing Requirements

The crisis of prescription painkiller and heroin addiction has not let up. While other news dominates the headlines, whole communities continue to suffer devastating losses due to fatal opioid overdoses.

Department of Transportation Drug Testing

Opioid dependency is so pervasive, the Federal Department of Transportation (DOT) proposes four common prescription painkillers be added to the drug testing panel. This is important because the DOT regulates commercial transportation on the nation’s highways and the aim is to make them safer for all drivers.

What Prescription Painkillers Might be Added to DOT Drug Testing Guidelines?

The following four opioid prescription painkillers are all classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as Schedule II Narcotics and are being considered as candidates to be added to future drug tests.

  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Oxycodone
  • Oxymorphone

The Schedule II classification includes medications prescribed for legitimate purposes, but with a high likelihood for abuse and dependency.

In the statement, the department notes its history of following regulations set forth by Health and Human Services Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs.

For its part, HHS examines the “incidence and prevalence” of substances in the general population when deciding what drugs to test for.

The epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction, in plain English, is so serious, HHS suggests testing all potential federal employees for the presence of these medications, a policy that DOT will likely adhere to as well.

Why are Prescription Opioid Painkillers Under Consideration for DOT Testing?

The following numbers show the widespread opioid misuse annually in the United States. The statistics are difficult to argue with:

  • In 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers were written
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration reports that in 2014, nearly 2 million Americans misused or abused prescription painkillers
  • On an average day in the United States, 650,000 opioid prescriptions are written and an average of 78 die in opioid-related overdose, writes HHS
  • More than 40 percent of all drug overdose deaths in the U.S., since 2002, have been opioid related, reports the National Center for Health Statistics

Who Would be Impacted by the New Drug Testing Guidelines?

If approved, the changes to DOT drug testing guidelines would go into effect in October 2017. The agency already tests commercial driver’s license applicants for marijuana, cocaine, codeine and MDMA among other substances.

Long haul truckers, school bus drivers, drivers for carrier services, such as FedEx and UPS, are the type of jobs affected by the new policy. Though everyone agrees safety is paramount, not all commercial drivers are happy about the proposed rule change.

The most common complaint some career drivers make is that opioids are often prescribed for pain management, in some cases related to sitting behind the wheel for hours and hours over the course of many years.

Another concern, voiced in the comments section of the Federal Register, is the consequences of random testing after someone’s gone through a medical procedure in which an opioid was administered. Should that driver lose their license as a result of a health issue?

Attempting to make the roads safer in this manner is not a cut and dry issue. The nuances of use, abuse and addiction are difficult to detect, especially when an individual is using the medication as prescribed and might even realize they’ve developed a dependency.

One clear problem, however, is that the scourge of opioid addiction and overdose has far reaching consequences in all areas of life.


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