By Wayne Schooling
New details in the latest Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse Report could accelerate calls for federal approval of other testing methods, such as hair and oral fluid testing, according to one safety and compliance expert. The June 2020 Monthly Summary Report, the second such report issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) since the clearinghouse went into effect in January, showed an uptick in queries in June. That’s a change in direction, as those numbers dropped in March, April and May, presumably because of the economic slowdown and freight recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The report allows us to pretty clearly see a COVID-related dip in pre-employment queries, indicating driver hiring slowed in March-May 2020 due to the pandemic,” said Dave Osiecki, president and CEO, Scopelitis Transportation Consulting. “June brought good news for the industry, though, with a 28% increase in the number of pre-employment queries. Great to see that hiring snapped back!” Unfortunately, the number of violations reported to the clearinghouse also increased in June, with 4,587 drug violations and 107 alcohol violations. Since the clearinghouse went into effect in January 2020, marijuana has by far outpaced all substances with 12,867 positives through June. The next highest was cocaine at 3,868 positives, along with positives for amphetamine and methamphetamine at around 2,500 each.
The June report featured a new breakdown of the number of refusals and violations associated with each type of test (random, pre-employment, post-accident, etc.), Osiecki said. “What stuck with me was that 13% of pre-employment drug testing violations were refusals,” he told HDT in an email. “Considering that, in the pre-employment context, a refusal can really only occur after the driver has been handed a urine collection cup, this number may be a good proxy for how often drivers attempt to defeat the urinalysis. This number, if it remains high, could accelerate calls for DOT approval of other testing methods like hair and oral fluid testing.”
David Heller, vice president of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association, noted that the database, queried over 4.2 million times during 2020, has provided motor carriers with the drug testing history of drivers operating in our industry. “We look forward to the time when carriers who employ hair testing, either as an alternative to or in conjunction with the urine-based tests, can input or access the results of these tests to the clearinghouse in order to provide an even greater account of any particular driver’s violation history.”
According to Osiecki, if the number of reported violations continues at the current rate, approximately 53,000 drivers will be disqualified in 2020, mainly as a result of drug testing violations. “Using the return-to-duty percentages in the June report, this means that around 8,500 of these drivers will make it through the RTD process in 2020 and drive again. That leaves about 44,500 drivers exiting the industry in 2020. Is the industry safer and better as a result? The answer seems pretty clear to me.”
As an added reminder, I’d like to remind all drivers that Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is becoming a commonly used natural alternative to pain medicine, but commercial drivers should be cautioned that use of CBD oil – even if derived from hemp – may result in a positive DOT drug test. The cannabis sativa plant comes in two strains, each of which has the potential to produce CBD oils. Each variation was created for specific purposes. Hemp is bred for fiber, clothing, oils, and nutritional benefits (0.3% THC concentration), while marijuana is bred to produce THC in resinous glands in its flowers and leaves (5-30% THC concentration).
Looking at THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) concentrations alone, you might incorrectly assume that only marijuana-based CBD oil has the potential to show up in a DOT drug panel. THC concentration is dependent upon the manufacturing process and how much oil the individual is using. Even hemp-derived CBD oils can register at a level that is considered a DOT drug testing violation. Use of THC is forbidden for a regulated driver, no matter the source. As a result, medical and recreational marijuana and some CBD oils, even if legal under state law, are federally banned, and considered an absolute when testing.
Since THC is an absolute under DOT drug testing, a medical review officer (MRO) must not take the medicinal use of a CBD oil into consideration as he or she determines a drug test result. A positive drug test result requires the motor carrier to remove the driver from safety-sensitive functions until specific steps in the DOT return-to-duty (RTD) process are successfully completed. After a positive drug test, the driver must: 1) Be evaluated by a substance abuse professional, which will consist of two visits, an initial evaluation and a final determination, at a cost of about $800 to $1,000 for both visits; 2) Complete prescribed treatment (the cost of this is unknown and depends on the initial evaluation); and 3) Have negative results for a RTD and all follow-up testing. Be aware that ALL tests must be observed, and the worst-case scenario could be as much as a random test every other month for five years, which could cost as much as $2,000.
As you can plainly see, testing positive on any test can be very costly in the long run. A driver’s career may be on the line if a drug screen comes back positive. To avoid any confusion surrounding the use of CBD oils, be sure to bring up the topic during driver training. Possible points to cover might include the fact that trace amounts of THC may show up in a DOT urine specimen, MROs will not accept CBD oil as a valid medical explanation for a positive drug test, enforcement officers may consider CBD oil in a commercial vehicle as possession (officers are unable to determine the concentration of THC in the oil and there has been no official guidance for them to follow), and labels don’t tell the whole story (packaging for CBD oil may claim to be THC-free or below traceable limits, when in fact, they contain enough to be detected during a DOT drug screen).
One final caution to get all your drivers’ attention is that CBD oils sold in states with legalized marijuana may have been made from a marijuana plant, resulting in a higher concentration of THC. Drivers should leave training with the understanding that any CBD or THC use is potentially a violation waiting to happen. We at NTA do not judge you. It is our duty to help drivers get back in the driver’s seat in the safest, compliant, most cost-effective way possible! Questions? Give us a call at (800) 805-0040 or visit us at www.ntassoc.com today.