Ensure that employees are aware of new DOT opioid test panels
Prescription pain medication abuse is at an all-time high in Alaska and throughout the entire United States. The number of narcotic-dependent persons continues to rise, so much so that it has been deemed an epidemic — even a crisis by some.
It may come as a surprise then to employers that have Department of Transportation (DOT) testing programs that, for a number of years, the DOT drug test panel was not testing for semi-synthetic opioids. These include some of the most highly abused drugs in our nation: hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone and oxymorphone — drugs that employers with drug-free workplace programs should be seriously concerned about. On Jan. 1, 2018, a new rule went into effect that now requires employers with DOT testing programs to include these four semi synthetic opioids in their test panel.
For companies that have DOT drug testing programs in place, no action is required to update your DOT laboratory account. Each laboratory that conducts certified DOT testing has made all necessary updates to ensure that your test panel now includes the semi-synthetic opioids. Employers do, however, need to update their company’s drug testing plan to reflect the new test panel and screening and confirmation cutoff levels for
each new substance. Although not required by regulation, it is best practice for employers to ensure that their employees are made aware of company policy updates. One way to be assured employees have the updated information is to send out a notice including information on the updated plan and require that all covered employees sign an acknowledgement form stating they have received a copy and understand they are subject to all plan updates.
A point of clarification for employers that have DOT testing programs: Although marijuana has been legalized in a number of states for medical and/or recreational purposes, employees working in DOT-covered positions that test positive for marijuana on a DOT drug test are in violation of DOT’s rules. Marijuana is still a Schedule 1 drug, meaning that federally, it is still illegal. Another point of clarification is that the DOT has stated that the only method approved for DOT drug testing is urine specimens.
At a time when drug use so prevalent, it is a good idea for companies that have non-DOT testing programs to review their company policy as well. Many non-DOT drug testing programs are set up to mirror DOT testing programs. With changes to the DOT drug test panel, employer action may be required in order to update mirroring non-DOT lab accounts. Should you choose to update your non-DOT lab account testing panel to mirror the new DOT testing panel, you will also need to update your company non-DOT testing policy. Again, it is always the best practice to ensure any updates are sent out to all covered employees and to have all employees acknowledge receipt of updates.
Companies with non-DOT testing programs may also want to consider expanding their non-DOT drug test panel even further. In the state of Alaska, employers with non-DOT testing programs can still choose to test for, and take action against, employees who test positive for marijuana. Non-DOT test panels can be created to run for practically any and all substances that an employer may be concerned about. Of course, during the time of the opioid epidemic, it is important for employers to include the aforementioned substances on a test panel. But what about some of the additional “designer drugs” such as K2/Spice, bath salts and many more? Does your company test for these substances? You may want to include language in your company policy that allows you to test for these substances, should have reason to do so. Non-DOT testing programs can also test using a number of specimen types, including urine, saliva and hair. Depending on the window of detection you are looking for, different testing methods may make more sense for your company.
The key to maintaining a drug-free workplace program is to implement an updated company policy and educate employees on that policy, as well as the consequences for any violations.
Companies with DOT-required testing have guidelines that must be followed to maintain regulatory compliance. Companies that have non-DOT testing programs have a variety of test panels and options for testing method. They key is to determine what best meets your company’s needs. There are a tremendous amount of drugs that are being abused in today’s world, and as an employer that looks to maintain a drug-free workplace program, you should know that you have a number of options.
By Brennen Portalski, C-SAPA Beacon Occupational Health and Safety Services Inc.