You hear about our drug epidemic all the time. The U.S. had an estimated 64,000 deaths due to drug overdoses just in 2016. These are government statistics so you know the numbers are higher.
It’s crazy that as more and more people are popping these highly addictive drugs — sometimes before or while they drive –most commercial truck companies were not even being tested.
The Department of Transportation has long required testing of other drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, and the illegal opioid heroin, and of course alcohol.
Finally the DOT has caught up with the times. Semi-synthetic opioids were added to the mandatory panel starting January 1. Finally.
Employers at 18-wheeler companies must now test their drivers for four popular prescription medications: hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, and oxycodone.
How many truckers take opioid drugs? Because testing was not required, there is no way to know. Often truck drivers were only tested after they crashed their tractor trailers and hurt others. But, 11.5 million people abused opioids in 2016 and as the DOT announcement noted “transportation industries are not immune to this trend and the safety issues it raises.”
Employers administer roughly 6.3 million DOT-regulated drug tests every year. The panels have included heroin since 1988. But prescription opioids, which mimic the effects of heroin, have remained untested.
Short-term side effects of these drugs include drowsiness, lethargy, sedation, feelings of euphoria, and paranoia. There is obviously no way for a driver to operate a tractor-trailer with these symptoms.
Thank goodness this new law will prevent opioid-affected drivers from getting behind the wheel, a much better plan than testing once a driver has already caused catastrophic injury. I’ve seen these giant companies deliberately stall the mandatory testing or try to withhold the evidence when a death was involved so they could later argue that the results were not conclusive.
The testing will also likely deter use. Just like fear of a DWI stops some drivers from drinking, a driver whose job is at stake will think twice before taking oxycodone.
Critics suggested that the new DOT rule unfairly targets truck drivers who were prescribed painkillers and using them legally. But, who wants truck drivers to operate a tractor-trailer while on this incredibly powerful narcotic, legal or not? The DOT rule is no different from the FAA regulations on pilots, who are prohibited from taking over-the-counter cold medications and pain medicines that could affect their flying skills. The rule recognizes that the huge potential risks justify heightened restrictions.
One of the issues I consider in a truck accident injury case is whether the driver was impaired, which is important both to prove liability and to prove gross negligence and right to punitive damages recovery. A valid prescription was a defense.
With the inclusion of opioid medications, that defense is much weaker. Furthermore, we can now obtain more information about the driver’s history and the employer’s knowledge. Did the driver test positive for opioids in the past? Was he put in service despite positive test results? Or, did the employer fail to follow DOT drug testing rules? The latter is prima facie evidence of negligence.
If you were in a truck accident, call Berenson Injury Law for a free consultation. We can begin investigating your case immediately and thoroughly to help you recover the maximum possible damages.