Machael Schaffer has reached the end of his time as a board member at the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Drug Testing Advisory Board. An expert in the field, he was previously the chief toxicologist at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office. And he claims that HHS is ramming through a change to drug testing policy for truck drivers with a “fatally flawed” process.
Truckers are required to undergo drug screening at multiple different times. They can be screened when they’re hired, as part of their medical certification, or randomly by their employer so that the carrier meets their federally-required minimum testing rate. Currently, the only acceptable method is urine analysis.
For the past few years however, American Trucking Association, the trade organization which represents most large carriers in the industry, has been advocating for hair testing to be allowed to fulfill federal requirements.
Advocates claim that hair testing would remove dangerous drivers from the road. Evidence shows that hair follicle testing has a much higher positive rate than urine testing. Since many large carriers already use hair testing in addition to urine testing, it would also save them money by negating the need for them to double-test.
Further, ATA-funded research has found that hair testing all commercial truck drivers would remove hundreds of thousands of drivers from the road. While questions have been raised as to the validity of the study, it seems likely that most of drivers to lose their jobs would be from non-ATA companies who haven’t been subjected to hair testing yet.
Opponents of hair testing have pointed out that it is notorious for false-positives. For example, hair that is exposed to cannabis smoke even for a brief time – like what might happen if someone walked by a person who was smoking – can return a positive result even months later. Civil rights organizations have long pointed out that hair testing is discriminatory since some types of hair can capture second-hand smoke and retain traces of drugs for longer than others.
Despite the policy having been rejected multiple times in the past, the federal government is bringing the issue forward again. The policy will likely be put forward for public comment in the Federal Register within the next few days.
During a DTAB meeting on the subject, Schaffer read aloud from a personal written statement.
“I want to go on the record today to address an issue which should be disturbing to every member of DTAB, and to the public at large,” said Schaffer according to Transport Topics. “That is, this fatally flawed process which was used to develop the hair-testing guidelines, which are about to be published in the Federal Register. The DTAB has been cut out of the process entirely.”
According to Schaffer, not one member of the advisory board has even seen – let alone been able to review – the proposal.
“Because of the unprecedented lack of transparency surrounding the drafting of these proposed guidelines, I urge [you] to change course and not publish the guidelines until they have undergone the necessary scientific review by the members of the drug testing advisory board,” Schaffer concluded.
This is a developing story.