DOT expands list for transport worker drug tests

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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About the author

Dale K. DuPont

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.

4 Comments

  1. how does this lower the companies costs while they’re paying for more testing?

    Oh, its one more expense passed on to the working mariner.
    One more useless excuse for ‘safety’ on the water.

    If anyone was REALLY concerned about ACTUAL safety instead of manipulated statistics, they would stop violating our rights under the constitution with unreasonable searches and test us for our ABILITY instead of what might or might not remain in our system after months of time! Drug testing does NOTHING to tell if a person is actually competent to do their jobs! It DOES put a hell of a lot of good people out of work and ruin who knows how many careers. It should not be expanded, it should be completely eliminated and the time and money spent on something that actually DOES help improve safety, like maybe increasing crew size (but nooooo, that would cost money so it’ll never happen)

    • Amanda Higgins on

      under this, the urine sample is tested for more drugs. the employers are paying for the sample to be tested so it’s not more samples being drawn just more testing done on a given sample. Drug tests are paid for by the employer. So it is not more expense to the working mariner.

  2. The issue here is that if the employee is prescribed these painkillers via their doctor, they can become addicted to them just as easy as if they were buying them through a street drug dealer. There is no saying or knowing how long one can be on these prescribed painkillers. In fact, I have known individuals that have been on these painkilling prescriptions for years – from multiple doctors. Therefore, anyone can be addicted to these painkillers and all they have to do is show a prescription. Keep in mind, that I am not definitely not saying that being on these drugs adversely affects your ability to operate any machinery. As an example, I know as many do out there, that just because marijuana happens to be in your system, it will not adversely affect your ability to operate machinery. For some, taking marijuana while operating machinery may affect your ability to operate.

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