The American Trucking Associations (ATA) said today it has asked Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to quickly issue guidelines and standards for using hair samples to drug test a driver applicant as a condition of employment, saying the agency is lagging its Congressionally mandated deadline to act.
The five-year federal transport spending bill signed into law in December 2015 gave HHS one year to publish a scientific and technical roadmap for hair-follicle testing, which would be used as an alternative to the current urine-testing requirement for substance abuse. However, the agency's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—the unit responsible for developing testing guidelines—was meeting only this week to consider the guidelines, ATA said. That the group was just now getting together will delay the process even further, ATA said. In the meantime, many truckers are voluntarily paying for hair testing, as well as continuing to comply with the mandate to test urine samples, the group said. In a possible sign of industry impatience, six companies in late January asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a sub-agency of the Department of Transportation, to grant them authority to use hair analysis instead of urine samples for pre-employment testing. The carrier petition has drawn sharp rebukes from the Teamsters union and the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. The labor groups argue that HHS, not DOT, sets the rules for controlled-substance testing, and that a grant of the petition would be "wholly unprecedented." FMCSA had set a Feb. 21 deadline for responses, but the labor groups have asked for more time to craft a formal reply. The six companies are J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc.; Schneider National Inc.; Werner Enterprises Inc.; Knight Transportation Inc.; Maverick Transportation LLC; and Dupré Logistics LLC.
Some carriers have employed hair-follicle testing for nearly 10 years, even though it is significantly more expensive than urine testing. Truckers prefer to test with hair follicles because, unlike urine, hair will show traces of illicit substances for extended periods of time. A hair sample taken from the head can detect drug use three months back, whereas urine samples detect consumption no further back than two to three days. As a result, hair-follicle testing does a more effective job of identifying applicants who are chronic, long-term drug users, those who trucking companies would be loath to put behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer filled with cargo, according to the carriers.
In addition, it is possible to subvert a urine test. There are many drug-masking products on the market, and there are sites on the Internet that provide instructions on how to defeat a urine test.
However, critics of hair testing have argued that it can't distinguish between a drug metabolizing inside the hair and an external substance that gets into the hair and could trigger a positive reading. Another issue is getting the hair clean enough to prevent a surface contaminant from creating a false positive, critics have said.