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Trump Administration releases mandatory guidelines on hair testing for drugs

Trucking lobby takes issue with “alternate specimen” requirement. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Friday released for comment long-awaited mandatory guidelines for the use of hair-testing to screen drivers for drugs.

The proposed Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs using Hair (HMG) “will allow federal executive branch agencies to collect and test a hair specimen as part of their drug testing programs.” But it limits hair testing use to applicants for federal testing designated positions and for random testing, according to HHS.

A federal agency that chooses to test hair specimens – such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) – must collect at least one other specimen type, such as urine or oral fluid, authorized under the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs. 

The agency also must provide procedures for use of an alternate specimen when a donor is unable to provide a sufficient amount of hair for faith-based or medical reasons, or due to an insufficient amount or length of hair, according to the proposal.

In addition, the HMG “require collection of an alternate authorized drug-testing specimen in addition to the hair specimen, either when the hair is collected or when directed by the Medical Review Officer (MRO) after review and verification of laboratory-reported results for the hair specimen.

“This alternate specimen would be tested and reported in place of a donor’s positive hair specimen only in certain circumstances,” HHS said. The guidelines are meant to give federal agencies flexibility “to address testing needs by allowing hair as an alternative specimen type.”

The American Trucking Associations (ATA), which has been monitoring hair-testing guideline developments, said the HHS proposal “undermines the effectiveness of hair testing and would have serious implications for carriers who currently utilize hair testing,” according to a message sent to members by ATA President and CEO Chris Spear, and obtained by FreightWaves.

Spear’s message said the proposed guideline effectively adds a second and unnecessary test in cases where hair testing results are positive for drug use.

“While an alternate test is currently part of these guidelines, today’s notice does seek comments on this specific provision, including data on the use of hair testing and the added burden that would be incurred,” Spear said. “This leaves the door open for future changes.”

Adding to the concerns of those supporting more rigorous hair testing policy are allegations of a lack of transparency during the rulemaking process.

Michael Schaffer, a member of the Federal Drug Testing Advisory Board (DTAB), asserted at a DTAB meeting earlier this month that the process was “fatally flawed” because the board had been cut out of the process entirely.

“This means that these proposed guidelines were developed without the expertise needed to ensure that they are scientifically accurate and defensible,” Schaffer, a toxicologist at a major hair drug testing lab, said in a statement. “I fear that these proposed guidelines are going to unnecessarily restrict the use of hair drug testing, an incredibly effective tool at detecting drug use, for reasons which have no scientific basis.”

Following the comment period on the HHS guidelines, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance and the FMCSA would undertake a rulemaking process before hair testing for drugs would be required for commercial drivers, David Osiecki, president and CEO of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, told FreightWaves last year

The 182-page HHS proposal can be viewed here.

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.