Opioid bill pressures HHS for answer on hair testing

October 26, 2018

Mark Schremmer


As part of legislation signed by President Donald Trump to fight opioid abuse, the Secretary of Health and Human Services was asked to issue an explanation for why the agency hasn’t issued hair testing guidelines for truck drivers.

President Trump signed the sweeping bill, which addresses several aspects of the opioid crisis, on Wednesday, Oct. 24. In a subsection of the bill titled “Fighting Opioid Abuse in Transportation,” a provision requires HHS to report within 60 days on the status of hair testing guidelines, an explanation for why hair testing guidelines had not already been issued, and an estimated date of completion of the hair testing guidelines.

The request for hair testing guidelines was originally part of the 2015 FAST Act.

Urinalysis satisfies the current drug and alcohol testing requirements by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. However, many large fleets currently require their employees to undergo hair and urine testing. The American Trucking Associations and Trucking Alliance have pushed for FMCSA to require hair testing as a method for detecting the use of a controlled substance.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says there is no evidence to support the allowance of hair testing.

“The Trucking Alliance has yet to demonstrate that they have experienced a reduction in crash rate since their voluntary adoption of hair testing,” the OOIDA Foundation wrote in its one-pager on the topic. “Neither have they presented evidence showing that their hair testing labs meet the rigorous standards of scientific methodology for testing or that their hair testing equipment and protocol has been consistent and unbiased.”

OOIDA also said it is concerned about false positive readings and a lack of criteria to distinguish between drug use and environmental contamination, as well as limitations that come along with a person’s age, sex, race and hair types. Some research points to higher drug failure rates in hair testing for individuals with darker hair colors.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice called hair testing “unreliable and discriminatory.”