Trucking Association Opposes SAMHSA Hair Testing Commercial Drivers

By John Lavitt 07/17/15

The truckers' association feels that standard drug testing is more reliable and less expensive.

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In response to a request for information by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) offered a skeptical take on hair testing for drug use. SAMHSA requested comments regarding the inclusion of hair testing to the specific policies and standards applied to the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs. The trucking organization claims there are definitive limitations to the accuracy of hair testing such as timing and hair type.

SAMHSA specifically reached out to trucking industry stakeholders regarding standards and policies that could be applied to federal workplace guidelines for drug testing. Drugs included in a standard hair drug test include cocaine, marijuana, opiates, methamphetamine, and phencyclidine (PCP). These five drug classes are mandated for testing by the federal government.

In 2013, OOIDA highlighted that there were 30,057 fatal motor vehicle crashes in the United States. According to data reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the driver of a tractor-trailer was under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication in 48 of those crashes—or 0.16%. With an average of less than one per state, OOIDA says urine screening has proven to be a reliable testing methodology.

“The ultimate measure of any change to the current methods for testing should be a reduction in crashes,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president. “To this end, we encourage SAMHSA to evaluate the safety performance of companies that have voluntarily adopted hair testing. If there is demonstrable evidence that hair testing has reduced the number of crashes their drivers are causing, then it may be worth considering the protocol for such a program and for the program to be consistent throughout other modes.”

OOIDA claims there are limitations with hair-based testing, including its inability to detect recent drug use. It takes anywhere from four to 10 days for the hair containing the drug to grow. Variances in hair types have also posed problems in standardizing drug testing. OOIDA also pointed out the cost factor. At $90 per test, hair-based testing is significantly more costly than urine-based testing, which costs around $45 per test.

In his response, Todd Spencer went on to emphasize, “Given that drug use among CDL holders is significantly lower than the general public and the tractor-trailer driver was under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication in only 48 fatality accidents (compared to thousands of car, light truck, or motorcycle accidents) in 2011, is there a verifiable safety benefit from hair-based testing?”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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