WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump pledged on Wednesday to put an “extremely big dent” in the scourge of drug addiction in America as he signed legislation intended to help tackle the opioid crisis, the deadliest epidemic of overdoses in the country’s history.
The bill, introduced in May by Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to report progress on hair testing within 30 days of passage and lays out a schedule, including benchmarks, for completion of hair testing guidelines, something the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) have long wanted.
Efforts to get hair testing guidance has been a work in progress for the past 21 months, said David Heller, vice president of government affairs at the Truckload Carriers Association.
The legislation calls on HHS to issue federal oral fluid testing guidelines by December 31, study the possibility of adding a federal drug testing panel for the opiate drug fentanyl, and expand drug testing requirements for certain rail employees.
“There are companies out there that are using hair to test for drug and alcohol in a driver’s system,” Heller said. “Hair only detects a driver’s history, it doesn’t detect whether they are under the influence.”
Part of the issue revolves around the number of laboratories that can analyze hair testing.
“There are roughly seven laboratories that do hair testing, but each one does it a little differently. There is no one set way to do the testing. This is where HHS and Department of Transportation Office of Drug and Alcohol Protocols have an issue because no one can agree on one testing method.
“So those two agencies are looking at certifying laboratories, which is fine,” Heller said, “but it needs to be done sooner rather than later so carriers can officially use this testing process for their drug-and-alcohol testing protocols and is obviously something they can’t do right now. The only approved testing is urine. The need is to be able to do both. Hair is actually the predominant test for pre-employment random testing where urine would be good for post-accident and reasonable suspicion.”
Although it’s a guidance and not a rulemaking, “In this day and age, guidance and rules are the same thing,” Heller said. “As I said, a lot of these carriers are hair testing now, anyway. And we’re only looking for an and/or in order to incorporate hair testing into drug testing protocols. We are not looking to change the rule, we are looking to make drug testing more stringent.”
“Our fleets need to depend on the most accurate, reliable and failsafe drug testing methods available today, and this legislation pushes the federal government to recognize those means of testing,” said Bill Sullivan, ATA’s executive vice president of advocacy.
The bill also contains reporting requirements on the development of the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.
Currently, SAMHSA only recognizes the test method of urinalysis. The FAST Act required HHS to issue scientific and technical guidelines for hair testing by December 2016 – a deadline which was missed.
Nearly 48,000 people died last year from overdoses involving opioids. Overall, U.S. drug overdose deaths have started to level off, but Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says it’s too soon to declare victory.
The legislation will add treatment options and get the U.S. Postal Service to screen overseas packages for a synthetic form of opioids called fentanyl that are being shipped largely from China.
The measure mandates advance electronic data on all international packages, including those delivered by the Postal Service, and set deadlines for the screening to be put into place by the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection and the Postal Service.
Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency and two major funding bills have passed under his watch.
“My administration has also launched an unprecedented effort to target drug dealers, traffickers and smuggler,” Trump said. “We are shutting down online networks, cracking down on international shipments and going after foreign traffickers like never before.”
The White House says the Justice Department has shuttered a large “Darknet” distributor of drugs, and in August indicted two Chinese nationals accused of manufacturing the shipping fentanyl and 250 other drugs to at least 25 countries and 37 states.
Fentanyl is inexpensive but some 50 times more powerful than heroin, according to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio., who was recognized at the East Room event along with other lawmakers instrumental in getting the bill passed.
The legislation covers not only opioids but also any kind of substance abuse. It expands Americans’ access to treatment and changes the law that prohibited Medicaid from reimbursing residential treatment at certain facilities with more than 16 beds.
It includes $60 million for babies born dependent on these drugs and authorizes a variety of programs, such as drug courts that work to get offenders into treatment instead of behind bars.
“Together we are going to end the scourge of drug addiction in America,” Trump said. “We are going to end it or we are going to at least put an extremely big dent in this terrible problem.”
Associated Press sources contributed to this report.
The Trucker News Staff produces engaging content for not only TheTrucker.com, but also The Trucker Newspaper, which has been serving the trucking industry for more than 30 years. With a focus on drivers, the Trucker News Staff aims to provide relevant, objective content pertaining to the trucking segment of the transportation industry. The Trucker News Staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.