Are More Reliable Truck-Driver Drug Tests Coming?
Although we currently check truck drivers for drug use through urinalysis, such tests do not always accurately reflect drug usage. Opioids are one glaring example—this class of drugs is not detectable in the body after a few hours, even in someone who uses the drugs regularly. Hair-sample testing provides a more accurate test than urinalysis because it can reveal opioid usage from the previous 90 days. However, hair tests are not currently a legal substitute for federally-mandated urine testing.
Because of the increase in opioid abuse, the Trucking Alliance is advocating for legislation that would require testing of hair samples from truck drivers, rather than taking urine samples. The Trucking Alliance, also called the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, includes large trucking companies such as Swift, J.B. Hunt, Knight Transportation, U.S. Xpress, Maverick, Dupre Logistics, and others.
Congress would consider the legislation in January, 2019.
The Superiority of Hair-Sample Tests
Lane Kidd, the managing director of the Trucking Alliance, has stated that most companies use only urine tests because of the expense of double-testing both urine and hair samples. He believes drivers who failed hair tests done at J.B. Hunt likely found jobs at other companies that test only urine. Since 2006, Hunt has turned down more than 5,000 truck driver applicants who passed a urine test but failed a follow-up hair-sample test. Kidd added, “Multiply this company’s experience by the hundreds of thousands of truck driver applicants each year across the United States, and we have a major problem.”
The Trucking Alliance has cited a Brazilian law put into effect during 2016 that required drivers to submit a hair sample for drug testing before their truck driving license could be renewed. The result of Brazil’s testing requirement was that over one million truckers in that country either failed the drug test or declined to take it, thus becoming ineligible to renew their license. The tests kept drug users from getting behind the wheel of large vehicles that often cause catastrophic damage when an accident occurs.
U.S. laws have not kept pace with the recent explosion in opioid addiction. Some of the many drugs abused by some truckers include hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and fentanyl, as well as a number of morphine compounds sold under several brand names. Once an opioid abuser runs out of ways to procure legal prescriptions for these drugs, they may even turn to heroin. All opioids have the potential for deadly results on the road, because drivers can pass out or die behind the wheel from taking too much of any opioid. Until recently, such drugs were commonly prescribed for pain problems of all types.
Hair-sample testing more accurately detects the drugs companies test for, but running both urine tests and hair tests costs them more money. Moving to a federal hair-sample testing standard and dropping the urinalysis requirement would ensure better results and save an estimated $2 million a year in costs for trucking companies. The proposed law would set hair-sample tests as the new federal legal standard.
OOIDA Says No
OOIDA, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association of the trucking industry, believes that hair sample testing is unnecessary, citing statistics from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Data indicate that, in 2015, less than one percent of fatal truck crashes involved drivers who tested positive from drugs. For this reason, the Association characterizes the insistence on hair-sample testing as unwarranted; insufficient evidence exists to support the need for it.
However, the Trucking Alliance insists the new legislation is needed. Kidd is on record as saying, “We hope Congress will follow Brazil’s leadership and require a drug test that proves without a doubt that a truck driver job applicant hasn’t taken illegal drugs or abused opioids for at least 30 days. Too many loopholes allow truck drivers to skip random drug testing, even after they’re involved in a serious large truck accident.”
Listening hard. Working harder.
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