Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse reports highlight needs but offer few solutions

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Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse reports highlight needs but offer few solutions

When it comes to Congressional action, movement is often excruciatingly slow.

“Unfortunately, it is rather stagnant up there” is a comment that could have come from a variety of sources regarding any number of issues awaiting resolution on Capitol Hill.

In this case, the comment comes from David Heller, senior vice president of safety and government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), and the topic is drug and alcohol testing for commercial drivers.

The admission of oral fluid and hair follicle testing are two issues that concern Heller. He was involved in the implementation of last year’s oral fluid testing rulemaking by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the addition of hair follicle testing to programs approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

“Certainly, oral fluid testing would be a win-win for the industry,” Heller said. “We have a rule that went into place in June, but we still don’t have two laboratories that have been certified to move forward on this testing mechanism.

“We as an industry continue to wait on government interaction, and it’s just not happening,” he continued.

Through conversations with TCA membership, Heller has found that increasing numbers of motor carriers are using hair follicle testing for controlled substances.

“I think you’re starting to see hair follicle testing trickled down to mid-sized carriers because of the success that large carriers have had in implementing this type of program,” he said.

Yet another leadership change at the FMCSA hasn’t improved the situation, according to Heller. Acting Administrator Robin Hutcheson left the agency in January and was replaced by Executive Director and Chief Safety Officer Sue Lawless, who addressed TCA members during the association’s annual convention in March.

In December 2023, the FMCSA’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse completed its fourth year of operations. Monthly reports show the total number of Clearinghouse queries, both full and limited, has grown each year of the program’s existence.

In 2023, a total of 7,134,622 Clearinghouse queries were conducted. Of those queries, 2,701,444 were full inquiries for pre-employment purposes. Pre-employment queries grew by 4.8% from 2022 levels and total queries by 2.7%.

Also rising were the number of drug violations reported. In 2023, a total of 68,229 violations were reported, representing a new high. In an interesting twist, however, the number of positive drug screens actually declined by 5.4%, down from 57,597 in 2022 to 54,464 in 2023. This is an indication that increased numbers of specimens were positive for more than one controlled substance.

While it may seem strange that positive test results declined while overall violations increased, the difference lies in the number of test refusals.

In 2023, 12,804 driver refusals to test were reported. That’s 18% of the year’s total violations. Each year from 2020-2022, the refusal to test rate hovered around 12%. When only random drug tests are considered, the number of refusals in 2023 climbed to 21% of all reported violations.

Heller believes the increased refusals may be evidence that the Clearinghouse is having its intended effect.

“(Offenders) know that they won’t be allowed to get behind the wheel, and they choose to find other work,” he said.

The percentage of positive test results attributable to marijuana (cannabis) has increased each year of the Clearinghouse, reaching 61.3% in 2023. That’s likely a result of the progression of jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana for recreational or medical use or have decriminalized its possession or use. The increase in marijuana use may also help explain the increased number of refusals to test that the Clearinghouse reported in 2023.

In his State of the Union address on March 6, President Joe Biden reiterated his October 2022 comments made regarding issuing a pardon proclamation for thousands of Americans convicted in federal court of marijuana possession.

“No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said. An administration-prompted review in 2022 resulted in a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommendation, issued in August 2023, that cannabis be moved to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act.

Another drug that captured an increased percentage of positive drug screens in 2023 was cocaine. According to Clearinghouse reports, 16.8% of positives reported were due to the drug. Unlike marijuana, there is not a nationwide effort to decriminalize cocaine; however, another testing trend could be impacting its use.

Opioids such as hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone have been in the news in recent years as abuse of these prescription drugs reached epidemic proportions. As of November 2023, 38 states had enacted restrictions on the prescribing of opioids. In 2022, the Centers for Disease Control revamped its previous guidance, issuing new guidelines for the dispensing of opioids, influencing the policymaking of legislatures and health organizations.

The four opioids mentioned above were responsible for 8.5% of all positive results reported to the Clearinghouse in 2020. That rate has fallen each year, with 2023 results showing the lowest total number of positives yet with a positive rate of 6.0%. Positive results for other forms of opioids such as morphine, codeine, and 6-acetylmorphine have remained relatively constant.

Methamphetamine has also experienced declines in positive testing, dropping to 7.3% of all positive results reported to the Clearinghouse in 2023.

One possible cause for the decline in positive results for opioids and methamphetamine is the increased presence of fentanyl, which may soon be added to the DOT testing regimen.

In the meantime, it seems many commercial drivers with positive test results recorded in the Clearinghouse prefer to choose a new career rather than comply with federal regulations. Of the 226,598 drivers found with at least one violation since the Clearinghouse became active, 158,330 — that’s 70% — remain in prohibited status. On top of that, 120,676 (53.2%) have not even begun the return-to-duty process.

This could be an indication that efforts to solve the issue of substance abuse will impact another problem cited by many motor carriers — a shortage of qualified drivers.

In the meantime, it seems, the trucking industry is stuck waiting in line, hoping for a “prescription” that will cure all ills.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 edition of Truckload Authority, the official publication of the Truckload Carriers Association.

Cliff Abbott

Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.

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Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.
For over 30 years, the objective of The Trucker editorial team has been to produce content focused on truck drivers that is relevant, objective and engaging. After reading this article, feel free to leave a comment about this article or the topics covered in this article for the author or the other readers to enjoy. Let them know what you think! We always enjoy hearing from our readers.


I’ve been a semi driver for at least 10 years. One of my biggest complaints Companies all lie through their teeth to get you in the door and then everything’s different and on top of that. is never knowing when? Where or what ? I just want to piss in a cup As often as I have to and be done with it. I’ve been trying to join the clearing house for a year and a 1/2. I can’t even get a straight answer on that.

As a professional who has worked in the treatment field for almost 34 years and who also acts as a TPA for around 50 companies, I’d like to offer a recommendation that has been shown to be effective in helping employees who have a substance use problem. The FMCSA should allow drivers who test positive to retain their driving privileges if they are enrolled in the SAP program, not after they have completed it. This is much like many states who offer this for people with DUI/DWI. This would allow the driver to continue working while receiving the services to fully restore their driving privileges.

Here a couple yrs back my wife and I went in for a drug test for a new job as we drive team. When I come out from doing my test my wife was already in the car she was crying about how her test went the young punk that did her test said it wasn’t pee the color and smell wasn’t right so he declined and told her she would have to pee in front of a personal. She said fine the only catch was that she had to pull her shirt above her boobs, which my wife knows is wrong, they proceeded to embarrass her and make her feel like some low life off the street. She told them to stick and walked out. Which of course makes you guilty, the problem is neither one of us drink alcohol or do drugs so this is problem, it shows that the people doing the testing aren’t qualified to do this job. The young punk was showing he was in charge which is total BS. So my wife has moved on, we decided to get her sap but there’s no one around that does it. She has tried calling clearing house several times can’t get any answers. She’s coming up on five yrs that this happened. Because of some little punk that knows it all and isn’t even a qualified my wife loses her driving privileges and this punk wrecked our careers for making a decent living. Something has to change, I can’t imagine the people that have been screwed by this system.

I went in to due a drug test in Jacksonville. The carrier call me to go in after I picked up this load. I went in and the guy that was giving me my test was Flirting with me and I give he a piece of my mind. So after that I pee in the cup and he says the temperature isn’t showing and I said BS I can see at right there at 98 degrees. He made me take all my clothes off to see if I was carrying anything and I wasn’t. He sent it in as a refusal. I did the sap and now the Clearing house sends me an email 4yrs later talking about my sap person wasn’t qualified to do sap which is BS because how did he go in the system and changed everything when I was done with the sap now there saying I have to start over and I have been put but to Prohibited again from driving. This whole system is BULL SHIT! I. going to talk with my lawyer about seeing the FMCA something all of us truckers need to be doing. I’ve been driving since I was 18 and now I’m 47 as an owner operator. Now what I’m supposed to do to feed my family?😮‍💨 Can anyone give me some advice

The person you should sue is the SAP who said he was qualified to do your evaluation. It’s so unfortunate. I would definitely contact a reputable SAP and work with them. If you’ve had no drug or alcohol problems, then you should be able to get back to work quickly. Note: you can do SAP meetings now over the internet, just make sure the SAP you are working with is licensed in the state where you live. For a list of reputable SAPS, go to
Best of luck!