HHS sets guidelines but DOT has yet to approve oral fluid testing

On January 1, 2020 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services established the structure to include oral fluid specimens in Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs, this means truck drivers could be looking at oral fluid testing in the future, however, the DOT has made no indication of when, or if, this is happening.

The directive from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), part of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Service (HHS), will allow federal executive branch agencies to collect and test oral fluid specimens as part of their drug-testing program. As well the guidelines may be used by some agencies, such as the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), to be able to collect and test oral fluid specimens as part of their drug testing programs, should they choose to include that type of testing. 

The notice from SAMHSA, HHS published in the Federal Register outlines the guidelines which must be used if the DOT or other agencies choose to add oral fluid testing to their testing programs, though it makes no requirement for them to add oral fluid testing to their program. As of right now, the oral fluid testing is only required for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs, not the DOT.

The new directive has changed the previous requirement established in 1988 by HHS to only collect urine samples for testing. “The scientific basis for the use of oral fluid as an alternative specimen for drug testing has now been broadly established,” said the notice. Moreover, according to the directive, the revision to change the sole requirement of urine sample was made since new technologies and products available on the market can be used to create fake urine samples.

In addition to the decision by the HHS to include oral fluid specimens as part of the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs, there is currently discussion surrounding the creation of a hair testing protocol as well.

 “The proposed Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Using Hair has been written and submitted to the (White House) Office of Management and Budget for review,” stated the spokesperson from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

According to a report by SAMHSA, there are currently unresolved scientific and legal issues delaying the proposal, although the congress had passed the legislation in 2015. Moreover, there have been some concerns around hair testing, since this procedure can determine drug use of substances such as cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin over a three-month period

Recently, the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has doubled its rate of random drug testing of commercial drivers, now testing 50% of driver positions. Moreover, its Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse program went into effect in January.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) has been advocating a zero-tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol, while calling on the federal government to introduce mandatory drug and alcohol testing for truckers. In addition, the CTA has been citing the report on commercial vehicle enforcement written by the Ontario Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, as evidence of the necessity of this measure. According to the findings of the report, the lack of drug and alcohol testing is a potential safety issue.

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