FMCSA harmonizes Schedule I drug requirements

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has issued a final rule to amend the physical qualifications for drivers and the instructions for the medical examination report to clarify that drivers may not use Schedule I drugs and be qualified to drive commercial motor vehicles under any circumstances. The proposal also harmonizes FMCSA’s provisions regarding pre-employment and return-to-duty test refusals with corresponding Department of Transportation-wide provisions. Finally, the proposal corrects inaccurate uses of the term “actual knowledge.”

FMCSA says the final rule – published Monday, Jan. 30, in the Federal Register – is necessary to reconcile and resolve a perceived inconsistency among portions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, DOT-wide drug regulations and DEA regulations. Although the FMCSRs prohibit drivers from using Schedule I drugs, the agency says that some may interpret other parts of the regulations as permitting their use if recommended by a licensed medical practitioner.

Currently, federal law only allows for their use in research, chemical analysis or manufacture of other drugs, and in certain circumstances, a medical review officer can verify a drug test negative when he or she has information that a driver is using a drug under a physician’s prescription. However, under DOT-wide rules, no medical review officer may verify a drug test negative for a Schedule I drug, even if he or she has information that a driver is using the Schedule I drug in accordance with a physician’s recommendation.

Interpreting FMCSA’s regulations to permit drivers to use Schedule I drugs would put the FMCSRs in direct conflict with DOT’s comprehensive drug testing program, which does not permit drivers to use Schedule I drugs. FMCSA says it did not believe this is a reasonable interpretation of the regulations, but to avoid any confusion, the rulemaking harmonizes the FMCSRs with DOT-wide regulations and DEA regulations, and makes it clear that drivers may not use Schedule I drugs under any circumstances.

In addition, 49 CFR 382.211 prohibits drivers from refusing to submit to certain types of
drug or alcohol tests and establishes such refusals as violations of FMCSA’s drug and alcohol regulations. Under DOT-wide regulations, drivers who refuse to submit to preemployment and return-to-duty tests must complete a prescribed return-to-duty process. However, § 382.211 was inconsistent with the DOT-wide drug and alcohol rules in that it did not include refusals to submit to pre-employment and return-to-duty tests as violations. FMCSA’s final rule corrects this inconsistency by adding these two types of refusals to the prohibitions at § 382.211.

To view the final rule, go to www.regulations.gov; the docket number is FMCSA-2011-0073.