When it comes to drug testing, more is not necessarily better

By Joseph Evangelist

Executive Vice President, Transervice
As originally appeared in FleetOwner Magazine’s IdeaXchange

Perhaps you saw the news that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is doubling the random drug test rate for truckers in 2020. FMCSA is obligated to increase the minimum annual random drug testing percentage when the data for any calendar year shows that the positive drug testing rate is equal to or greater than 1%. For 2018, FMCSA said the positive rate for random drug testing reached 1%.

The testing rate had been 25% and is now increased to 50%, taking it back to the level it was when the Department of Transportation started the testing program in 1995. In 2016 the rate was reduced to 25% following two consecutive years where positive test rates were below 1%.

Of course, this means we all will be bearing the cost of the increased number of tests. FMCSA estimates the price tag for the additional tests between $50 million and $70 million.

While I understand that the agency is mandated to increase the percentage of drivers that fleets have to test, I think they are missing the bigger picture here.

Just throwing more money at the problem is not going to solve it. Instead of testing more drivers, I think we need to revamp the whole drug testing procedure. It is common knowledge that urinalysis is problematic. In fact, it missed nine out of 10 illicit drugs in pre-employment testing.

What is troubling is we, as an industry, are now going to be spending $50 million to $70 million to get the exact same results. Hair testing has proven to be a more effective way to detect illicit drugs so why not spend the money on setting up protocols around that?

The loosing of the marijuana laws is probably playing a big role in the increased number of positive test results. We are seeing 11 states have now legalized recreational marijuana and 33 allow the use of it for medical reasons. But on a federal level marijuana is still illegal and is one of the drugs tested for in the event of an accident and in random drug testing.

Another disturbing fact is that post-accident drug testing procedures are not always adhered to or uniformly followed. If we really want to get the “bad actors” out of the industry, we should focus our efforts on developing better testing procedures and then enforcing post-accident procedures by the book each and every time.

To be clear, I am not against drug testing. But rather than doing more testing, shouldn’t we try to do better testing? That is the only thing that is actually going to make our industry safer.


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