Oral fluid testing a significant shift in the drug screening landscape

Approval of oral fluid testing for DOT-regulated drug screening procedures is significant. However, despite the rule being published May 2, 2023, with an effective date of June 1, 2023, there's a range of dependencies that must be met before this testing can be employed.

Devices that meet DOT specifications must be approved and available in the market. Two testing labs – one for testing primary specimen and one to test the split bottle B at the donor’s request – must be certified for use. Collectors must be trained and qualified by passing mock collections for each device they use.

We're still waiting for HHS approval for testing labs as of today. So, despite the rule taking effect, it's unlikely that fleets can proceed with oral fluid testing immediately. The process of meeting these dependencies could take anywhere from 3 to 12 months. Until then, fleets should be preparing for how they want to incorporate the new testing into their screening processes.

[Watch: Oral fluid drug test likely to put more 'cheaters' in FMCSA's Clearinghouse]

The introduction of oral fluid testing signifies a significant shift in the drug screening landscape. Historically, urine screening has been the predominant testing method. Adding oral fluid testing as a second specimen type gives trucking companies more flexibility. The decision regarding how and when to use this new testing method rests entirely with the carriers, but they must now strategize on structuring the incorporation of oral fluid testing and how to begin implementing it.

Oral fluid testing has several advantages that make it particularly appealing.

Oral fluid testing is always observed, making it significantly harder for the donor to alter or substitute their specimen before providing it to the collector when compared to urine testing, which is only observed under specific testing scenarios.

It is less invasive, which could improve the driver’s overall experience during the test and encourage larger carriers to conduct tests on-site rather than sending employees to drug testing facilities.

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The applicability of oral fluid testing in post-accident scenarios cannot be overstated. In remote accident locations, securing a suitable environment for urine testing can be challenging. Oral fluid testing is a game-changer in such scenarios as it allows for immediate testing with less stringent requirements for privacy. Similarly, for instances where there's reasonable suspicion of drug use, oral fluid testing can provide immediate results without coordinating a secure bathroom or transportation to a third-party collection site.

However, it's important to remember that while we're waiting for HHS approval, carriers should be proactive in planning for this new drug testing method.

Consider the logistics, potential scenarios and training needs that will arise. Be ready to communicate standing orders on oral fluid testing to all service agents. Take the time to review your current drug testing policy, make the necessary updates and distribute the policy to employees and track if they have received it.

This is an opportunity for fleets to reevaluate their drug testing procedures and policies to better accommodate the advantages offered by oral fluid testing. 

Shawn O’Neil is the Compliance and Chief Privacy Officer at Vault Workforce Screening.