Jan 10, 2024

Board's Proposal to Include Fentanyl in Drivers' Drug Testing List

In recent years, there has been a growing concern over the use of fentanyl and its impact on public health safety. This highly potent synthetic prescription opioid overdose has been the cause of positive drugs of abuse, numerous accidental overdose deaths and has been linked to a rise in deadly drug-related accidents.

In response to these alarming statistics, federal agencies, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has proposed a scientific evidence, initial test analytes or medical review and a significant change in the current drug random testing protocols or drug testing procedures for drivers. The board has recommended the inclusion of fentanyl in the list of substances to be tested for, in order to ensure the safety of all individuals on the road.

This proposal has sparked a heated debate among stakeholders, with some in favor of the move and others expressing concerns about its practicality and effectiveness.

This article will examine the NTSB's proposal to include fentanyl in drivers' drug test list, addressing the rationale behind the decision and the potential impact it may have on the transportation industry.

Additionally, it will explore the various perspectives on this issue and provide a comprehensive analysis of the potential benefits and challenges that may arise from implementing this proposal.

Initiated by a Federal Drug Advisory Group

The process of including fentanyl in the list of illicit drugs to be tested for by federal safety-sensitive employees and truck drivers has been initiated by a federal drug advisory group. However, due to the complexity of the procedures involved, it may take a considerable amount of time, possibly up to a year or more, for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to complete the necessary steps.

SAMHSA, which operates under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, holds the responsibility of supervising drug testing policies. During a recent meeting of the SAMHSA Drug Testing Advisory Board on December 5th, Chairman Ron Flegel highlighted that fentanyl is increasingly being detected in nonregulated samples at a rate higher than 1.9%.

This information emphasizes the significance of including fentanyl as an analyte, which refers to a chemical substance subjected to analysis, within the drug testing panel.

In summary, the recognition of fentanyl as an "emerging drug of concern" has prompted the federal drug advisory group to initiate the process of including it in the drug testing program for federal safety-sensitive employees and truck drivers. The SAMHSA, responsible for overseeing drug testing policies, will need sufficient time to navigate through the complex procedures associated with this addition.

Several Discussions and Presentations

According to Flegel, there have been several discussions and presentations leading up to this proposal to add fentanyl to the drug testing panel. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to the board.

As stated in the Federal Register announcement made by SAMHSA in October, they are taking action on the Fighting Opioid Abuse in Transportation Act. This act calls for HHS to assess the reliability and cost-effectiveness of mandatory testing to determine if adding fentanyl to the analyte table is justified.

The announcement emphasizes that fentanyl overdoses is a major contributor to overdose deaths in the United States and poses a significant public safety concern. It is also being increasingly abuse potential as a standalone substance use disorders, separate from heroin and other drugs.

An Important Component

The proposed test panel will also include norfentanyl, an important component for identifying fentanyl drug users when urine is used as the specimen matrix. According to information provided by HHS-certified laboratories in 2023, 84% of these facilities already analyze unregulated workplace specimens for fentanyl and/or norfentanyl.

They possess the necessary capabilities to detect fentanyl in urine specimens using commercially available immunoassay kits and confirmatory test instrumentation commonly used in HHS-certified laboratories.

Inviting the Public

SAMHSA is currently inviting the public to share their comments for a period of 30 days following the meeting held on December 5th. However, the DTAB has announced that it will not disclose these comments until their next meeting, which is anticipated to take place in the spring.

During this interim period, SAMHSA will be collaborating with its federal drug partners, such as the Department of Transportation, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Department of Defense, to finalize the specifics of its new fentanyl protocols.

Additionally, the DTAB members have been briefed on the latest progress regarding the revised rulemaking for drug testing using hair samples. Flegel, a representative of the agency, has informed that the proposed rule is currently being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

It is worth mentioning that the proposed rule was initially published on September 10, 2020, following a legislative directive implemented in December 2015.

Delays in finalizing the rule have occurred as regulators assess the potential impact of factors like hair color and external contamination on the accuracy of the tests. Unfortunately, Flegel did not provide an estimated timeframe for when the final rule on hair testing is expected to be published.

Highlighted the Ongoing Research

Furthermore, Flegel highlighted the ongoing research being conducted on the increasing legalization of marijuana in numerous states. It is worth noting that the federal government has consistently maintained its stance against permitting the recreational and medical use of marijuana among its employees, and this policy is also upheld by the Department of Transportation (DOT) for truck drivers.

As the future of marijuana remains uncertain, Flegel emphasized the significance of this issue in relation to federal drug guidelines. Specifically, he questioned the potential implications for the federal drug testing program if marijuana were to be descheduled or rescheduled.

Will the program still include marijuana in its testing protocols? At present, the outcome of this matter remains unknown.

In Conclusion

The proposal to include fentanyl in drivers' drug testing list shows a proactive approach towards addressing the growing issue of drug-impaired driving. By expanding the list of substances tested, the board is taking a step towards ensuring the safety of all individuals on the road.

It is important for employers and federal employees in the transportation industry to stay informed and comply with these regulations, as it ultimately benefits the well-being of society as a whole. With the continued efforts of the board and other organizations, we can work towards creating a safer and more responsible driving culture.

If you want to stay updated with a wide range of trends, actionable insights, and innovative solutions in the trucking, freight, and logistics industry, stay connected to us.

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Our DOT Consortium's friendly team will be more than happy to discuss any concerns you may have and work with you to ensure you are always fully compliant, especially with random DOT drug and alcohol testing. Moreover, if you need help with FMCSA Clearinghouse registration, we can further support you.