December 8, 2017

DOT to Test Safety-Sensitive Transportation Workers for Additional Opioids

Employers May Need to Update Drug Testing Policies as of Jan. 1, 2018
Holland & Knight Alert
Jameson B. Rice

Safety-sensitive transportation workers in the aviation, trucking, rail, transit and pipeline industries, as well as certain U.S. Coast Guard employees, are required to submit to random drug testing under federal law. Starting on Jan. 1, 2018, these employees will also be tested for hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone and oxycodone, according to a final rule issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Drugs containing these semi-synthetic opioids include Vicodin, OxyContin, Lortab, Norco, Percocet and Dilaudid. The DOT rule mirrors testing required by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Employers may need to revise their drug testing policies to comply with the new rule, according to guidance recently issued by DOT. Employers whose DOT drug testing policies simply refer to 49 CFR Part 40 do not need to make any changes. But if those policies list additional information, employers have two choices: 1) change the policies to simply refer to 49 CFR Part 40, or 2) make the following changes:

  • "If a policy lists 'Opiates (codeine, heroin, & morphine)' and/or 'Amphetamines (amphetamine, methamphetamine, MDMA, MDA, MDEA),' then 'Opiates' needs to change to 'Opioids (codeine, heroin, morphine, oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone)' and 'MDEA' will need to be removed from the list under Amphetamines."
  • "[I]f cut-off levels [for testing positive for a particular drug] are listed in current policies, employers must update those cut-off levels."

Employers are not required by federal law to provide notice to their employees regarding the changes in drug testing policy, although employers may certainly conclude that it would be prudent to do so.

An employee may rely on a doctor's prescription as authorization to use the drug that triggers a positive test. However, the prescribing physician may be asked to reconsider the employee's use of the prescription if there is a valid concern about whether the employee can continue to safely perform his or her task while taking the medication.

Many companies have already been testing for these semi-synthetic opioids. However, until this recent rule change, there has not been a federal mandate to test for these prescription drugs. 


Information contained in this alert is for the general education and knowledge of our readers. It is not designed to be, and should not be used as, the sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a legal problem. Moreover, the laws of each jurisdiction are different and are constantly changing. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult competent legal counsel.

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