A growing national epidemic prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to add semi-synthetic opioids to the list of drugs that mariners in safety-sensitive positions will be tested for.

Starting this year transportation workers will be subject to testing for hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, and oxycodone, which the Coast Guard describes as the most common prescription drugs of abuse. Common names for these opioids include OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet, Vicodin, Lortab, Norco, Dilaudid and Exalgo. Mariners are now tested for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, phencyclidine (PCP), and opiates such as heroin.

Mariners who test positive for opioids will have to provide a valid prescription to their medical review officer, the Coast Guard said in a recent bulletin. If there’s a legitimate medical explanation, the employer will get a negative report. If not, the examiner will report a positive result, and the employer must take the mariner off safety-sensitive duties and notify the Coast Guard.

“The opioid crisis is a threat to public safety when it involves safety-sensitive employees involved in the operation of any kind of vehicle or transport,” DOT Secretary Elaine Chao said in announcing the final rule. “The ability to test for a broader range of opioids will advance transportation safety significantly and provide another deterrence to opioid abuse, which will better protect the public and ultimately save lives.”

The Coast Guard also has kept the 2018 minimum random drug testing rate at 25% of covered crewmembers. Five years ago, the agency lowered the rate from 50% to 25% because of good results.

The Coast Guard can reduce the rate if positive tests come in at less than 1% of covered crew. It also can raise the percentage if the positive tests exceed 1%, or if the testing data is subpar.

Industry groups welcomed the change, saying it would cut operators’ costs while not changing their commitment to drug-free workplaces.


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Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.