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Random Opioid Testing Required For Pilots, Train Engineers, DOT Announces

In response to the worsening opioid abuse and overdose epidemic in the United States, federal regulators have issued a new rule that requires random drug testing that looks for opioid use among transportation workers engaged in safety-sensitive jobs, such as truck drivers, pilots and train engineers. 

The Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a final ruling (PDF) on the new drug tests for transportation workers this week, which will be published in the Federal Register on November 13. The rules require random drug tests for transportation workers to include narcotic painkillers, like Norco, Vicodin, and OxyContin.

The ruling will take effect January 1, applying to airline pilots, train engineers, and truck drivers who are subject to federally mandated drug screenings.

The change comes amid increasing concerns over the opioid abuse and overdose epidemic in the United States. A recent study indicated the number of opioid-related deaths may be much higher than officials estimate and the number of overdose deaths have increased, despite less people abusing opioids.

Currently, transportation workers are subject to random drug screenings; however, the drug screenings only test for marijuana, cocaine, PCP, and heroin.

The new ruling calls for drug screenings for any safety-sensitive transportation workers to also include testing for opioid drugs, including hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone and oxycodone.

The announcement noted that DOT received 52 comments from the public and interest groups on the new rule, which will bring testing in line with certain requirements by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Of those, 41 were in support of the new testing requirements.

“Supporters generally recognized the need for the Department to act consistently with the HHS Mandatory Guidelines and agreed that addressing opioid abuse issues in the context of transportation safety is important,” the federal register notice states. “Of the other 11 comments, several expressed concerns that adding these substances would increase circumstances in which drivers innocently using opioids (e.g., via a prescription 8 for pain medication) would be unfairly treated as drug abusers, with consequent positive tests harming their careers.”

Last year, two Amtrak workers who were struck and killed by an Amtrak train tested positive for oxycodone and cocaine. The oxycodone was only detected because drug tests done after accidents screen for more substances than random routine drug tests conducted on employees.

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