Last updated: November 27, 2023
On February 28, 2022, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced its proposed change to regulations to allow oral fluid testing as an approved alternative to urine testing in the DOT-regulated drug and alcohol testing program. The DOT extended the public comment period from the end of March to April 29th. Now, it’s October already. Where do things stand? Is the DOT any closer to approving the mouth swab test yet?
Well… we’re closer than we were when the waiting game started.
DATIA weighed in
The Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) hand-delivered a comment to the DOT regarding oral fluid testing on April 29th. The comment was received by Ms. Patrice Kelly, Director of the Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance (ODAPC) at the DOT. DATIA stressed that its comment wasn’t politically opinionated but “centered on industry thought leadership affirming our values as an independent, third-party expert in the drug and alcohol testing space.”
DATIA went on to state, “Stakeholder input is critical to the regulatory and policy-making process.”
What was in the letter?
Addressed to Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Anthony Washington, DATIA President, began the official comment by introducing the association as a valuable source of information due to the vast experience it has working with oral fluid testing practices.
We broke down the information shared into bullet points within the following subsections.
Oral fluid testing standards
- Clear scenarios for how urine or oral fluid testing methods should be stated in company policies and procedures.
- Allowing the tests to be determined on a case-by-case basis allows for the possibility of discriminatory use and inconsistency in testing due to the different windows of detection.
- Medical Review Officers (MROs) should decide whether or not to use the oral fluid test for someone suffering from shy bladder syndrome—likewise, using the urine test as an alternative for someone suffering from dry mouth syndrome. Companies should clearly outline these allowances in company policy.
- In random, post-accident, or reasonable suspicion testing scenarios where the designated specimen type can’t be collected, the DOT would designate an alternative testing method.
- The DOT should define the acceptable application of policy related to testing methods to ensure employers—both rural and urban—have consistency and uniformity of use.
Time and cost savings
- DATIA believes having the ability to substitute the oral fluid test for those employees suffering from shy bladder syndrome will be substantial. Allowing the change eliminates the three-hour waiting period. In turn, that eliminates lost wages and the added administration burden created for the employer.
- Oral fluid tests administered onsite save drive time and waiting costs. DATIA projects a savings of approximately $17.55 per test in travel time alone.
- Lost productivity associated with drive time to and from a third-party collection provider is a factor that needs consideration. The DOT should also consider comparing wait time vs active collection time to an employer conducting oral fluid tests onsite
Costs and benefits
- Cheating the mouth swab test is virtually impossible. It is possible to cheat on the urine test due to respecting the test subject’s right to privacy.
- The oral fluid test offers numerous benefits when used as an alternative for someone suffering from shy bladder syndrome.
- Being able to test onsite or view someone as they virtually self-test with an oral swab offers a significant reduction in overall cost.
- Using the oral fluid collection process will have a positive impact on the environment over time.
- It’s estimated that every test that is conducted onsite or virtually observed rather than traveling to a test provider will reduce CO2 emissions significantly.
- Plastic consumption and subsequent disposal and recycling methods for an oral fluid device should be compared to that of a urine collection cup plus its two split vials.
A long run
The government doesn’t seem to make any decisions quickly, right? That said, it really comes as no surprise that the final rules regarding using the mouth swab test as an alternative to the urine test haven’t been released yet. However, it’s good to know that DATIA has weighed in on the matter. Its expert opinion is surely going to bear weight with the DOT.
Extending the comment session enacted a flurry of activity last spring. Now, it seems like we’ve entered another “hurry up and wait” phase. Don’t get in too big a rush while you wait though, those speed limits haven’t changed.