While people who take substances that could temporarily or even permanently impair their normal functions are causing themselves undue harm, the bigger concern is the potential harm they can inflict on others. This is not an issue of carnage caused by drug-crazed maniacs, but an issue of the harm inadvertently caused by otherwise upright and well-meaning people handling potentially dangerous equipment while under the influence of drugs.
The statistics of fatal accidents associated with drug use are alarming, as nearly half of deaths in car crashes in the United States are found to be drug related. While government does as much as it legally can to curtail this dangerous practice, it can only set policies, engage in massive advocacy, and penalize private individuals who are found to be under the influence of controlled substances when they are in the custody of the law due to a traffic violation or a road accident. Sadly, penalizing such offenders is, in many cases, pointless since the damage has already been done and, in the worst possible scenario, there might not be anyone left alive to penalize.
What government can do is see to it that certain personnel are drug-free before they can lawfully get behind the wheel of any mass transport vehicle or behind the controls of equipment that could cause damage or harm. By virtue of the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act passed by the United States Congress in 1991, the Department of Transportation requires alcohol and drug screening for all personnel regarded as safety-sensitive employees. These tests are under the purview of various regulatory agencies within the DOT.
DOT Drug Testing: Who should be tested?
Drug testing is indicated for pilots, cabin crew, dispatchers and coordinators covered by the Federal Aviation Administration. Also tested are drivers and operators of large commercial passenger vehicles, or commercial motor vehicles that transport hazardous materials and are covered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The U.S. Coast Guard requires drug testing on all crew members operating commercial watercraft. Operations, maintenance, and emergency response workers regulated by the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are, likewise, required to undergo routine drug screening. At the railways, all train dispatchers, engine and train workers, signal workers, and Hours of Service Act personnel are subject to drug screening by the Federal Railroad Administration. Finally, the Federal Transit Administration requires testing on vehicle operators, controllers, mechanics, and armed security personnel.
Throughout these processes, the rights of employees who undergo routine testing continue to be protected by U.S. Law. While not all drug abuse or misuse is criminal and makes the user liable under the law, it could, nevertheless, be embarrassing and stigmatizing for the user when his positive drug tests results are made public. Such a disclosure could result in scandal and even adversely affect the user’s behavior or even his reputation. A history of substance abuse could also deprive the user of employment opportunities and good social relationships.
When is DOT Drug Testing done? What happens to those who fail?
Since safety-sensitive workers should never be drug abusers, it is the policy of their employers to conduct pre-employment drug tests which serve as some level of screening to determine if the applicant should be considered for the job at all. However, an all-clear result in a pre-employment drug test is not a guarantee that the employee will stay that way for the duration of employment. Maintaining a policy of random testing among employees serves as a deterrent because they can never tell when it’s their turn to be tested.
In cases where there is reasonable suspicion by a duly trained supervisor that an employee is misusing drugs, an unscheduled test can be indicated. A safety-sensitive worker who is found through a drug test to be engaged in substance abuse is immediately disallowed from working in such capacity lest he or she endanger other people. An unfortunate ramification of facing a drug rap is the possible loss or suspension of a professional’s license or certification. If such a person seeks reinstatement after undergoing proper rehabilitation, he or she should undergo return-to-duty testing which can be repeated several times in the first year. This practice of random drug tests can continue into several follow-up tests over the next five years.
As in the case of driving incidents among private individuals, a safety-sensitive worker under DOT supervision would be subject to post-accident testing in the event of such an incident. An alcohol test should be administered within 8 hours of the accident, and a drug test within the first 32 hours.
What drugs are being checked?
Alcohol and marijuana are widely available, and are top suspect drugs for testing, being the substances usually associated with car accidents. DOT drug testing currently employs considerably more sophisticated technology for checking substance abuse than the traditional alcohol-detecting breathalyzer. The standard protocol tests a urine sample for the presence of five main categories of commonly abused substances.
Even as the legal status of marijuana is constantly evolving in various ways from state to state, cannabinoids are surely among the substances being looked out for among safety-sensitive workers. However, it is principally delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC (and not the innocuous cannabidiol) which is being checked by urine testing.
Opiate usage continues to be widespread, particularly in its various derivatives such as morphine, codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, heroin and meperidine. While some of these drugs are legally manufactured, prescribed, and administered for pain management, they can diminish a user’s ability to operate potentially dangerous equipment, and are thus disallowed in DOT workers in safety-sensitive tasks.
Per DOT regulations, drug tests also look out for the presence of amphetamines like speed, methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, and methamphetamine (which is commonly referred to as crystal meth or crack). Likewise, DOT drug testing checks for the presence of cocaine or coke.
A highly dangerous drug that is checked by DOT Drug Testing is Phencyclidine or PCP, often referred to as angel dust. Originally developed as a powerful anaesthetic, its recreational use could cause the person to become dangerous to himself and to others, especially law enforcers, as he becomes impervious to physical pain and attempts feats of superhuman strength while in an uncoordinated state.
More information on DOT drug testing and how to ensure accurate and uncontestable test results is available on the Ovus Medical Product Page.