Positive drug tests and drug test refusals increased 8% and 9.3%, respectively, in September, after dropping slightly in August, according to the most recent data compiled by the federal Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse.
The latest monthly data, released Tuesday by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), also revealed that the number of drivers now in “prohibited status” — meaning they have at least one drug or alcohol violation and are still in the return-to-duty process — reached 34,156 as of Oct. 1. Roughly 78% (26,590) of those drivers, however, have not yet started the RTD process.
“The month-on-month increase in the number of drug violations, including the increase in the number of positive drug tests, is pretty troubling,” David Osiecki, president and CEO of Scopelitis Consulting LLC, told FreightWaves.
“Having said that, it’s in part a function of a greater number of pre-employment drug tests administered — due to more drivers being hired — along with the likelihood of more quarterly random test selections during September” as the last month of the third quarter, he said.
Osiecki also said that the percentage of drivers with violations who have not initiated the return-to-duty steps and have not completed the RTD process remains stubbornly high. “This trend is starting to paint a picture that drivers with substance abuse problems are being snagged in the Clearinghouse net and are leaving the industry.”
The Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse requires that employers check the database at least annually, through a “limited” query, to check for potential drug- or alcohol-related violations by current employees. Employers must also conduct a pre-employment query to check for potential violations for all potential driver hires.
While pre-employment queries increased 5.6% month-on-month in September, limited queries jumped 74%, according to FMCSA.
“The month-over-month increase in pre-employment queries is a very good sign for driver hiring, and it’s a continuation of the Clearinghouse preemployment query/hiring trend we’ve seen since May,” Osiecki said. “This trend bodes well for trucking growth.”
Osiecki also pointed out that the jump in limited queries conducted by carriers on their current employees is a clear sign that employers are getting caught up in completing their required annual Clearinghouse obligations. “It’s almost certain we’ll continue to see the number of limited queries rise over the next two to three months as we approach the Clearinghouse’s one-year mark,” he said.
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