U.S. Dept. of Transportation to begin testing for opioids

Photo of a pill bottle. (WISH photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Employees of the United States Department of Transportation will be subject to a new kind of drug testing, one that includes opioids.

The new guidelines came down Monday from the Department of Transportation, but are the additional rules needed?  The Department of Transportation worked for months to make sure drug testing includes opioids, something the old test missed. Their goal is to improve safety for everyone. The rule came down on Nov.13,  updating decades old drug testing panel.

President Trump announced a public health emergency in late October, kicking in services and funding to help fight the opioid crisis across the country. However, a few weeks before that Trump announced he was working with the Department of Transportation to come up with a rule to extend drug testing for “safety sensitive workers” like railroad engineers, pilots, air traffic controllers and truck drivers.

Congressman Todd Rokita has seen the opioid crisis hit all areas of the job market.

“Certainly we can see the devastation that opioids are causing throughout our communities throughout different job sectors,” said Rokita.

Congressman Andre Carson says a new test is needed.

“Bystanders have been placed in harm’s way. Amtrak has to deal with this with the injuries they’ve experienced. I think it’s a necessary step but unfortunately it’s embarrassing that we’ve waited so long to address it,”  said Carson.

That new rule updates the decades old, five panel test which  includes marijuana, cocaine and PCP. Christopher Meyers from INDOT says INDOT tests 25 percent of their workers with CDL licenses randomly.

“We already test for multiple types of substances including opiates which are similar but not the same as opioids which are being looked at right now especially in consideration of what’s going on around the nation,” said Meyers.

Kenneth O. Edwards the State Legislative Director for SMART Transportation says the railroad industry doesn’t do enough to stop the problem before it becomes too dangerous.

“There’s no room for drug abuse in the railroad industry,” said Edwards. “It’s a non-forgiving atmosphere that one mistake could cost you your life and costs other people their life. Right now, the railroads the drug policies are not employee driven, they’re management driven. So, you are talking about until somebody gets a positive drug test they may have a problem, and they would have to self-report, but if they do self-report they’re talking about missing a lot of work and the counselors aren’t from the ranks. The counselors are management people so there’s some mistrust there.”

Lawmakers are hoping the new rule will make it safer for everyone on the roads, in the air and on the tracks.

“I know that different states have different views on this,” said Carson. “Now is the time to set a national standard for transportation workers because too many innocent bystanders’ lives have been impacted because of carelessness and disregard.”

The Indiana Railroad company had this to say when asked about drug testing updates:

“Indiana Rail Road’s operating employees receive random drug testing, but only the five-panel drug test due to restrictions under federal law. We agree that opioids should be part of the drug-testing framework, and support the Trump administration’s proposal. Indiana Rail Road’s employee-assistance policy is such that any employee that fails a drug screening, or voluntarily admits to substance abuse, must submit to and complete a rehabilitation program administered by a Substance Abuse Professional. Any future positive results, after completion of an SAP-led rehab program, will result in immediate dismissal.”

For more on the Department of Transportation’s new testing guidelines, click here and here.