DOT could expand drug testing options

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Updated Mar 1, 2022

The U.S. Department of Transportation is proposing to amend the transportation industry’s drug testing program procedures regulation to allow oral fluid testing in lieu of urine testing.

In a Federal Register notice of proposed rulemaking Feb. 28, DOT said the addition of oral fluid testing would “give employers a choice that will help combat employee cheating on urine drug tests and provide a more economical, less intrusive means of achieving the safety goals of the program.” DOT says it does not have data on how much “cheating” occurs with urine testing, but it says it is aware the “problem exists and poses a direct threat to transportation safety.”

Oral fluid collection mitigates cheating since the test is administered face-to-face, usually with a sample collector swabbing inside the cheek of an applicant. 

Oral fluid has a similar look-back window to urine – usually a week or slightly longer – but it also provides more immediacy than urine, according to background check agency Good Egg. Oral fluid testing can detect certain drugs as soon as 30 minutes to an hour after ingestion.

DOT said in the notice that it is required to incorporate the Department of Health and Human Services’ Mandatory Guidelines, which recently approved oral fluid testing as a reliable means of detecting illegal drug use for federal employees.

DOT’s proposal would allow, but not require, oral fluid testing as an alternative to urine testing for use by DOT-regulated employers for required transportation industry drug testing.

Among benefits for trucking companies of oral testing are that it’s generally cheaper than urine testing (DOT estimates between $10 and $20 cheaper per test). DOT also notes that by giving the option of both urine and oral testing, employers can use one or the other depending on the situation due to the different detection windows associated with each. The department says the generally narrower detection window offered by oral fluid testing could give fleets a better chance at detecting recent drug use, such as for a post-accident drug test. The urine test could be used to detect a pattern of intermittent drug use through pre-employment, random, return-to-duty and follow-up testing.

DOT is accepting comments on the proposal here through March 30.