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5 Things You Didn’t Know About Alcohol & Drug Testing

Are you hearing conflicting things about trends or other aspects of alcohol and drug testing in the workplace? Someone told you it works this way, but someone else says it’s the other way, and you’re confused about what to believe? We’ve got the answers.

For more than 15 years, our team has worked through many changes and shifts in the field of alcohol and drug testing. We have seen the emergence of new drugs and have integrated what we believe are the best North American standards and practices into our service delivery models. Our commitment to serving our clients is to stay informed and keep them protected.

Here’s a list of 5 common things employers may not be aware of:

1.    A negative drug test result does not necessarily mean your employee can do safety sensitive work.

Even if the result is an MRO-verified negative due to the valid use of a prescribed, off-the-shelf, or over-the counter non-prescribed medication, personal sensitivity to medications and dosages can change and other issues may arise (such as the need for other types of medication that may co-react with the medication detected on the test) that could impact safety on the job. Employers should encourage employees to immediately stop safety sensitive work if they are experiencing any side effects from medications and contact their personal physician. In some cases, adjusting the type of medication or the dosage may minimize or eliminate any side effects. If not, substituting other medications may be necessary based on the employee’s health status, or the donor may have to be removed indefinitely from safety sensitive work until their health condition improves or the need for the problematic medication no longer exists. At any rate, the prescribing physician should be made aware of the donor’s job description, the physical demands, and the safety sensitive issues relating to the job. Employers should require the physician sign off that the donor is fit to return to full duties, taking safety sensitive issues into consideration.

2.    Four of the five drug families tested for in the standard 5 panel have the potential to be used for valid medical reasons.

The standard 5 panel includes cannabinoids (THC), cocaine, opiates (codeine, morphine, heroin), phencyclidine (PCP), and amphetamines (amphetamine, methamphetamine, ecstasy). The only three distinct drugs that can have no valid medical use are heroin, ecstasy, and PCP. All other substances in the 5 panel have the potential to be used as part of medical treatment and/or administered as part of a medical procedure. DriverCheck’s MROs diligently review each and every specimen donor’s claim of legitimate medical use for any drug detected to ensure the validity of any medical explanation offered where a specimen has been confirmed as testing positive by the analytical laboratory.

3.    Medical marijuana is currently being reviewed as a stand-alone medication with regards to the impact it will have on drug test results.

Medical Marijuana is marijuana. It will cause impairment when used and will cause a positive test result for THC. Under the U.S. Department of Transportation rules, it cannot be considered as a valid medical explanation for a positive drug test and Medical Review Officers shall determine the test to be positive for THC. However, in non-regulated drug testing programs, employers will have to establish their own policy regarding the acceptability of medical marijuana as a valid explanation for a positive drug test. Legal input is highly recommended, especially given the pending changes to Canada’s medical marijuana authorization program. Physicians (and possibly other health care professionals) will soon have the unilateral authority to endorse use of the drug by their patients without the need for Health Canada co-endorsement (as is currently required), and at this point, there are no guidelines around appropriate dosages. Safety sensitive issues must always be taken into consideration even where medical marijuana is an acceptable explanation under the employer’s policy.

 4.    Commercial vehicle drivers cannot cross the border into the U.S. until the negative test results of their pre-employment and return to duty drug and/or alcohol tests have been reported to the employer.

Some employers mistakenly send their Canadian drivers into the U.S. before their drug and/or alcohol test results are in. For pre-employment and return to duty testing, U.S. DOT (Department of Transportation) rules stipulate that your Canadian drivers are not allowed to go into the U.S. until their drug and/or alcohol test results are reported as negative. However, drivers who undergo a random drug and/or alcohol test are allowed to drive before their result is reported to their employer.

5.    Substance Abuse Professional services and Employee Assistance Programs are not the same thing.

Employee Assistance Programs provide workers with counselling to help them with stress or personal problems that could be linked to substance use, misuse, or abuse. That’s very different from the role of a Substance Abuse Professional – which is not to provide counselling or treatment – but to determine if the worker who tested positive and/or violated DOT regulations or Company Policy should receive treatment and/or education where required. The SAP would arrange for that treatment and/or education, not provide it directly themselves.

Is there an issue or trend you’re confused about that you’d like to have cleared up? Share it with us in the comment section of this post or on Twitter, @DriverCheckCA. Our experts will get you the response you need!