Oral fluid drug testing guidelines set by HHS

October 29, 2019

Mark Schremmer


The Department of Health and Human Services has established scientific guidelines that will allow federal executive branch agencies to use oral fluid specimens as part of their drug testing programs.

HHS published the rule in the Federal Register on Oct. 25. The rule is set to go into effect on Jan. 1, but the Department of Transportation will have to go through its own rulemaking process.

“Some agencies, such as the Department of Transportation, are required to follow the guidelines in developing drug-testing programs for their regulated industries,” the rule stated.

“The Oral Fluid Mandatory Guidelines establish standards and technical requirements for oral fluid collection devices, initial oral fluid drug test analyses and methods, confirmatory oral fluid drug test analyses and methods for review by a medical review officer and requirements for federal agency actions.”

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.

“The Department believes that collecting and testing oral fluid specimens according to the requirements in these guidelines is an efficient means to detect illicit drug use and ensures that the oral fluid test results are forensically and scientifically supportable,” HHS wrote.

“Each federal agency will decide whether to collect urine, oral fluid, or both specimen types in their workplace testing programs.”

Hair testing

Meanwhile, the department’s final rule regarding the use of hair testing for drugs has been sitting at the White House Office of Management and Budget since June 11. It is still listed as “pending review.”

OOIDA, as well as other groups, has been critical of hair testing, saying there is no evidence to support it.

While urinalysis satisfies the current drug and alcohol testing requirements by the FMCSA, many large fleets require 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 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 a report. “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.

“Other issues with hair testing, which have yet to be addressed, include the problem that different individuals grow hair at different rates and that it takes much longer for metabolites to appear in hair than in urine.”

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.