In addition to preparing for a jump in costs for drug testing their drivers, carriers should also be ensuring that their drug-testing policies and procedures have been updated to reflect the doubling of random drug testing rates, according to compliance consultant J.J. Keller.
The random drug-test increase from 25% to 50% of the average number of a carrier's drivers was made public by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on Dec. 26. The agency estimated doubling the rate would cost the trucking industry an additional $50 million to $70 million for calendar year 2020.
"The cost to double the rate of testing is the most obvious implication for companies," J.J. Keller Transport Safety Editor Kathy Close told FreightWaves. "But carriers also need to make sure their third-party administrator — if they're using one — is testing at the appropriate rate because it is the carrier that is responsible for the actions of their service provider." She added that carriers could be exposed to penalties if compliance is not up to date. "It's important that they're checking in with whoever is managing their drug and alcohol program to make sure they're made aware of the change."
Close also advised carriers to make sure that if they cite the testing rate in drug and alcohol policy or driver training manuals, that these materials be updated as well. "Carriers should be communicating the most recent testing rate, or it may appear [to auditors] that the company doesn't have safety management controls in place. Training is a big item looked at during audits."
The FMCSA is required by statute to increase the random drug-testing rate to 50% if the estimated drug-usage rate within the industry — based on random test sampling — equals or exceeds 1%. Data collected in 2018 estimated that rate at 1%, which triggered the increase in random testing for 2020. (FMCSA estimated the drug usage rates in 2016 and 2017 to be 0.7% and 0.8%, respectively.)
While the agency did not provide a reason for the increase in drug use, Close said it's reasonable to deduce that the addition by the U.S. Department of Transportation of four semisynthetic opioids — oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone and hydromorphone — to its federal drug-testing program in 2018 could be a major factor.
Another could be the increase in states legalizing the medical or recreational use of marijuana. A survey released in September by Quest Diagnostics, which analyzes drug-testing results, found that tests showing up positive for marijuana in the transportation and warehousing industries increased 53.3% between 2015 and 2018, among the highest of the different industry sectors.
The increase in drug use and random testing rates should theoretically be reflected in activity within the FMCSA's Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, Close noted. Starting Jan. 6, all positive test results will be required to be uploaded into the system.
"Carrier testing at double the rate could result in more tests being reported if more positives are discovered, which means employers should ensure that MROs [medical review officers] know when they need to report violations to the clearinghouse," she said.