Feds: Transport Workers to Be Tested for Opioids in the New Year

The U.S. Department of Transportation calls its expansion of drug tests for employees part of an effort to fight the nation's opioid epidemic.

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The U.S. Department of Transportation says that starting in January, transportation workers will have opioids added to the list of substances they are tested for. 

The final issue, issued by the DOT on Monday, expands the agency's drug testing in DOT-regulated industries to include semi-synthetic opioids such as hydromorphone, oxymorphone, and oxycodone. 

The new regulation covers pilots, air traffic controllers, railroad engineers, truck drivers or any other workers subject to federal drug and alcohol testing rules. 

In a statement, the agency described its move as an effort to enhance safety and prevent opioid abuse.

The U.S. opioid overdose epidemic led to the deaths of more than 33,000 people in 2015, more than any year on record, with nearly half of the fatalities involving a prescription opioid and the rest stemming from substances like heroin and fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The opioid crisis is a threat to public safety when it involves safety-sensitive employees involved in the operation of any kind of vehicle or transport,” Secretary Elaine Chao stated in the DOT release. “The ability to test for a broader range of opioids will advance transportation safety significantly and provide another deterrence to opioid abuse, which will better protect the public and ultimately save lives.”

Previously, the DOT has just overseen a five-panel drug test, which includes marijuana, cocaine, and PCP, for safety-sensitive transportation workers.

The testing panel in use by the agency for decades has not included opioids and other prescription painkillers.

The new rule comes after two maintenance workers who were hit and killed on a railway track by an Amtrak train last year tested positive for cocaine and oxycodone.

In January, the Department of Health and Human Services updated its mandatory guidelines for federal drug testing programs and let the DOT add the prescription opioids to its drug-testing panel.