As we are all well aware, the United States is facing an ongoing opioid crisis it has long been struggling to control. With a total of 11.4 million people misusing prescription opioids in 2017, it is easy to see the ramifications of the opioid epidemic have found their way into the lives of commercial truck drivers throughout the United States. As of January 1st, 2018, any individual taking a Department of Transportation federally mandated drug test, as those with a commercial driver’s license must do, would be subject to testing not only for drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines, but for semi-synthetic opioids like OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet, and Vicodin. This expansion upon the previous drug testing regulations embodies how the trucking industry has had to deal with the issue of drugs among its drivers. While opioids statistically are not the most prevalent drugs being used by drivers within the trucking industry, the new drug testing regulations confirm what many within the industry have known for years; the drug crisis America faces has hit one of its largest industries the hardest.
On June 12, 2019, the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, what many in the industry know as the “Trucking Alliance,” submitted a statement to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Sub-Committee on Highways and Transit regarding the state of drug use within America’s trucking industry. As part of its statement to Congress, the Trucking Alliance provided data which had been given to the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) and found compelling evidence of severe drug use among commercial drivers. The data showed results of “151,662 truck driver applicants, who were asked to submit to two drug tests – a urinalysis and a hair analysis. Almost all applicants held an active commercial driver’s license.” In addition, 94% of the applicants tested drug-free; however, there were thousands of applicants who failed either one or both of the tests given. Making the issue far worse, the urinalysis test, which happens to be the only method used by USDOT, actually did not identify a majority of users, missing 9 out of 10 actual illicit drug users. On the other hand, the Trucking Alliance has proposed that USDOT begin mandating a hair analysis to be conducted in addition to the current urinalysis routine. In total, the Trucking Alliance has now stated that based on the estimated 3.5 million commercial drivers within the United States, the data compiled would result in roughly 301,000 commercial drivers failing or refusing a hair analysis. Even though this number appears shocking, it only begins to convey the hazard that such drivers pose to road safety.
Drug Use Among Drivers is Leading to Dangerous Roads
Part of the Trucking Alliance’s plea to Congress on June 12th was to make certain that motorists are not placed in more danger due to a commercial driver’s potential drug abuse problem. As evidenced by the survey conducted, public safety is at risk if trucking companies fail to acknowledge and appropriately test for drugs that have been proven to be rampant within the industry itself. In fact, a Quest Diagnostics analysis conducted between 2015 and 2017, found that commercial drivers who went through post-accident testing saw an increase in positive drug-testing rates rising 51%, from 3.1% in 2017 all the way to 4.7% in 2018.
Of course, the trucking industry is not the only one afflicted by the ongoing drug crisis in the United States; however, as in other industries of high stress and long hours, drug abuse seems all the more likely. With that being said, it is absolutely essential that employers take this data seriously and consider adopting new, more accurate drug tests, in addition to the mandated urinalysis test that has been proven to fail. For the health of the commercial drivers spending hours on the road alone and for the overall well being of the general public, employers must do all they can to keep unsafe drivers off the road.
The Effects of Driving Impaired
While the opioid epidemic is a crisis that must be addressed, many companies are actually finding that the legalization of marijuana through various states in the US is also contributing to driver impairment. Trucking Info’s recent Safety and Compliance report cited an interview with the American Trucking Association’s Abigail Potter, Manager of Safety & Occupational Health Policy. Abigail recently mentioned that even if a driver is operating a vehicle under 26,000 pounds, “you still have to be medically qualified to operate, and one of the requirements is to not use a controlled substance, which include marijuana.” Further, being impaired by marijuana causes “drivers to exhibit poor judgment, decreased motor coordination, and decreased reaction time,” leading drivers to be all the more likely to get into an accident and place others at risk. If these are the effects that marijuana has on drivers, now imagine the impairment that such drivers experience from opioids, which have proven to be prevalent in the trucking industry as the US experiences this ongoing crisis.
What Can Be Done
As it appears the best way to directly attack the ongoing issues within the trucking industry is based solely on understanding who is actually being affected by drug abuse, creating an appropriate guideline for company testing is the most appropriate way to start. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides a checklist to help employers with drug testing. The checklist includes the following:
- Identify any federal or state laws with which you must comply
- Consult union officials, if applicable
- Identify and contact a laboratory certified by the Department of Health and Human Services
- Create a system that maintains and protects the confidentiality of employee drug testing records
- Designate an employee who will receive test results from the lab and keep results confidential
- Develop a clear, consistent and fair policy before reviewing it with legal counsel
- Notify employees 30 to 60 days before implementing the testing program
- Contract with a medical review officer; and
- Inform employees that organization leadership will comply with the policy
The most important thing to keep in mind for trucking companies overseeing this process is to know that there is data suggesting that opting for an additional hair analysis drug test will likely result in far more accurate readings. While the country is as reliant as ever on trucking to transport goods from place to place, that does not mean we should sacrifice driver and road safety to keep more commercial drivers in the industry without getting help. We need to be smart and make certain that everyone on the road remains safe.