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New Proposal for Mouth Swab Drug Testing
Mariah Barr
6 mins read

The U.S. Department of Transportation has just published a proposed rulemaking that could shake things up in the realm of drug testing. 

The proposal suggests adding the testing of oral fluid as a drug screening method for DOT-regulated companies, permitting motor carriers to test truck drivers using the collected fluid samples in lieu of urinalysis. 

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On February 28th, in a Federal Register announcement, DOT said, “the advantage of every oral fluid collection is that it will be directly observed, as opposed to most urine collections, which are unobserved.” 

Implementing face-to-face saliva drug testing would help ensure the specimen collected from the employee is theirs, since a direct cheek swab is usually performed, whereas urine testing can be potentially tampered with or substituted for the employee to achieve the desired results. Specific data on the frequency of this cheating is not available from the DOT; however, it has noted that it is aware the “problem exists and poses a direct threat to transportation safety.” 

It has been found that the same number of people who took both urine and oral fluid tests passed the urinalysis but failed the oral fluid test. This could be for any number of reasons, but the most likely conclusion is the elimination of the “cheating” that can occur with urine tests. 

From an employer’s perspective, it’s easy to see that any testing method that will “screen out” drug users will make the hiring process less taxing, reduce turnover rates, and simply save time and money. Saliva tests put employers in the driver’s seat in terms of when, where, and how drug screening is completed. There’s no need to find a local lab or potentially take hours out of an employee’s shift, which is required with a urine test. Oral fluid testing can be administered in-house by a trained individual at any time. 

Having the option to choose from urine or saliva testing could give employers more flexibility based on the reason for the test and the detection windows of each type. The DOT says since oral fluid testing has a generally smaller detection window, detecting recent drug use may be more feasible, such as for a post-accident drug test. When the detection of a pattern of intermittent drug use is needed, such as during pre-employment, random, return-to-duty, and follow-up testing, a urine test may be used. 

The turnaround time for results from a saliva test is also much less than a urine test. Urine drug screens require two days of testing to see current usage levels, while an oral fluid screening can yield results within a few hours. 

As you may know, this isn’t the first alternative drug testing method that’s been considered to be effective. Carriers associated with the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security (or the Trucking Alliance) often use hair testing if it’s allowed by their states. 

Stricter Testing Guidelines Could be on the Horizon 

Another hot topic in the recent proposal is the possible introduction of observed urine testing by a medical professional who is “legally authorized to take part in a medical examination in the jurisdiction where the collection takes place.” The DOT has suggested that the medical professional would not need to be of the same gender as the donor in order to observe the collection. In addition, the donor would not be able to decline the direct observed collection by a medical professional if they were of the opposite gender. 

While the direct observation of a urine test would nearly eliminate the issue of “cheating” as noted above, it may also spark controversy in terms of employee privacy. 

The DOT is open to comments on whether there should be any limitations on the types of medical professionals who could perform this function, as well as if there are religious or other concerns that should be considered in this new proposed method of observed urine testing. 

Foley is aware that this rulemaking could be established at an unknown date and may change the future of drug testing. We will provide more up-to-date information as it becomes available. For now, employers should consider which testing methods would work best for them in accordance with their company goals and how they intend to use them, whether it’s across the board for all testing instances or just situationally.

The DOT is accepting comments on the proposal through March 30th here.

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