DOT Issues Final Rule on Drug Testing Procedures for Transport Workers

The Department of Transportation has amended certain provisions of its drug and alcohol testing procedures to change instructions to collectors, laboratories, medical review officers, and employers regarding adulterated, substituted, diluted, and invalid urine specimen results. Published in the June 25 issue of the Federal Register and effective Aug. 25, 2008, the changes in DOT's final rule are intended to create consistency with specimen validity requirements established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and to clarify and integrate some measures taken in two of DOT's Interim Final Rules. The department noted that although 49 CFR Part 40 authorized specimen validity testing under the Interim Final Rules, it was not required. Now the final rule makes the testing mandatory within the regulated transportation industries.

DOT said there were 27 commenters responding to the 2005 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding this final rule. Most of those concurred with DOT's proposal to make specimen validity testing mandatory, seeing it as a necessity because of the increase in products designed to adulterate specimens and the subsequent prevalence of specimen tampering. Most comments received said the mandatory testing would bring better control over the specimen testing process, the department said.

Of the commenters who recommended that the specimen testing remain elective, a number "expressed concern that the science of SVT has yet to evolve to the same level of accuracy, reliability, and defensibility as the science of drug testing," DOT said. "Other comments on mandatory SVT included concerns about costs and the extent of adulterant testing. Some commenters believed the DOT's cost estimates for SVT were low. . . . Commenter also expressed concerns that laboratories were not testing for all adulterants."

DOT's response to these concerns, included in the final rule, is that specimen validity testing "is an appropriate response to the use of adulterants and attempts to subvert the collection and testing process. The HHS Mandatory Guidelines established SVT requirements with which laboratories must comply in order to become and remain HHS-certified. The HHS has stated that its SVT standards are designed to produce the most accurate, reliable, and correctly interpreted test results…. There is no reason to presume that these standards are scientifically insufficient. Therefore, we will require that urine specimens tested under the DOT-industry programs will be subject to the HHS procedural standards for SVT."

DOT said it will continue to use HHS instructions to laboratories for establishing cutoffs and directing laboratory analysis regarding creatinine levels. The final rule calls for "observed collections" for all return-to-duty and follow-up drug testing and any time there is a specific reason to believe an employee may be attempting, or have sufficient reason, to evade the testing process. Observed collections are designed to afford less privacy in order to guard against employee use of items made specifically to beat the testing process. Also, in an effort to thwart those who would manufacturer products designed to adulterate specimens, the final rule will no longer have easy-to-follow tables and charts outlining the adulterants for which laboratories are testing and the scientific cutoff levels at which laboratories are testing them, DOT said. To view/download the final rule, go to www.dot.gov/ost/dapc/frpubs.html.

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