The Coast Guard has set the 2020 minimum random drug testing rate at 50% of covered crewmembers because positive results crossed the 1% threshold for the second straight year. This contrasts with a recent six-year stretch in which the rate held at 25%.

Employers must submit test data for each calendar year by mid-March of the following year. Since 2018, mariners in safety-sensitive positions have been tested for semi-synthetic opioids in addition to marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, phencyclidine (PCP), and opiates such as heroin.

The Coast Guard in a Federal Register notice in late December said the positive rate for the most recent reporting year “continues to be greater than one percent,” but did not give a precise number. The step-up in testing is triggered by law and took effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

“Intoxicated operations pose a serious threat to life, property and the environment in the maritime commons,” the Coast Guard said. “As such, the minimum random drug testing rate is intended to deter and detect illegal drug misuse in the maritime industry.”

Prompted by a growing national epidemic, the U.S. Department of Transportation in early 2018 added to its test list 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 who test positive for opioids have to provide a valid prescription to their medical review officer, the Coast Guard said. 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 rate was lowered to 25% in 2013 based on two years of results below 1%. At the time the Coast Guard praised employers and mariners “for their efforts to create a drug-free workplace and encourage[d] marine employers and drug testing service providers to continue to submit accurate, complete and timely” data.

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

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.