OOIDA stresses need for valid science in drug testing comments

May 2, 2022

Mark Schremmer


While acknowledging the potential cost savings of oral fluid drug testing for truckers, OOIDA said the benefits will only be realized if the forensic science is valid and trustworthy.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association submitted formal comments to the U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday, April 29, about a proposal to include saliva in its drug testing programs. Urine testing is the current standard.

The proposal follows the Department of Health and Human Services’ 2019 rule that allowed federal executive branch agencies to use oral fluid specimens as part of the drug testing. Although the rule went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, each agency is required to go through its own rulemaking process. The notice of proposed rulemaking marked the beginning of that process for the Department of Transportation.

“The Department of Transportation’s proposal to include oral fluids in drug testing regulations has the potential to provide professional truck drivers and transportation employers a more economical, less intrusive means of achieving highway safety goals,” OOIDA wrote. “Moving forward, the department must continue educating industry stakeholders about the scientific and forensic supportability of oral fluid testing.

“Oral fluid testing should remain an alternative to urine testing until transportation workers and employers are more familiar with the mandatory guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”

The original guidelines for federal workplace drug testing programs were established in 1988. Since then, the requirement has been to collect a urine specimen. Supporters of oral fluid drug testing say it can be used at the same level of accuracy as urine testing. According to a chart included in the notice, the window of detection or oral fluid testing is typically shorter but similar to the window for urine testing.

Another advantage of oral testing, according to the notice, is that it allows for direct observation of collection. Because of privacy concerns, most urine collections are unobserved.

“We encourage both HHS and DOT to begin comprehensive outreach to industry stakeholders about how oral fluid testing would be implemented and administered,” OOIDA wrote. “For the trucking industry specifically, DOT should address any concerns about law enforcement executing roadside oral fluid drug tests.”

The Association specifically mentioned Michigan’s roadside saliva drug testing program.

“During the program, nearly one in four positive oral tests were later overturned by blood testing, according to a report the Michigan State Police presented to lawmakers in January 2021,” OOIDA wrote. “Of the 934 positive tests that were recorded between October 2019 and September 2020, 222 were later overturned by blood tests. We recommend DOT review the findings of this pilot program and ensure that any protocols/procedures resulting in such false positive rates cannot be duplicated.”

The Association also stressed the importance of protecting personal privacy and making sure there is a comprehensive training process for external qualified collectors.

In addition, OOIDA made clear that it is “steadfastly opposed” to any sort of hair testing mandate.

“Given the many uncertainties and lack of safety improvements, there is no sound reasoning for federal agencies to double drug testing costs for drivers by imposing a hair testing mandate,” the Association wrote.

The comment period ended April 29. According to the Regulations.gov website, more than 400 comments were submitted. LL