On the Road, On Opiates
by Thomas Hoffman
Tiger Woods was recently featured in a video after being pulled over. He displayed classic symptoms of an intoxicated driver. Woods was unable to walk a straight line, focus on the police officer’s light or perform any of their tests. However, Woods was not under the influence of alcohol. He was under the influence of Vicodin (Hydrocodone), a powerful painkiller.
Across the country, companies are required to drug screen their employees, especially if that employee will be operating or driving machinery such as tractor trailers or coach busses. Imagine if a person was exhibiting the same symptoms as Tiger Woods. What if that person was able to thwart a drug test, slip through the cracks and then directly get behind the wheel of a truck, a car, a tractor trailer or even an air traffic control room?
When you hear a company screens its employees for drugs, you naturally assume the company must test for the most common and addictive drugs being misused today. However, one of the largest drug testing systems in the country fails to do this. There is a flaw in one of the largest drug testing systems in the country that allows users to pass the test. Surprisingly, the guilty party is the federal government itself. More specifically, it is the Department of Transportation or DOT. The DOT sets the standards for drug testing for coach buses, tractor trailers and even air traffic controllers. The DOT mandates only a “five panel test” which screens for drugs including marijuana, heroin and cocaine. These are all obviously illegal drugs.
The federal test also includes testing for certain legal drugs including morphine and codeine. However the DOT deliberately omits testing for the most common and addictive legal opiate drugs being misused today. Vicodin (Hydrocodone), OxyContin, Percocet (Oxycodone) are all among the legal drugs the DOT fails to test for. A person could take a mega-dose of the widely available Vicodin (Hydrocodone), be numb from neck down, and still be able to successfully pass a DOT drug test.
The person could then be permitted to drive a coach bus full of children afterwards while still under the influence of high-dose opiates. Coach buses are often used for school field trips, or a method of transportation for moving children to summer camp.
There was once an experiment conducted on ABC that could relate to this story. ABC’s Lisa Stark was once featured in a story called Sleep Driving: Growing Hazard on the Road. Stark volunteered to be the subject of an experiment to demonstrate the effects of certain legal drugs like Ambien. She took Ambien and then got into a simulator. While in the simulator, she drove in the wrong lane, ran a red light and crashed into a truck. She also fell asleep in the simulator and was unable to walk a straight line. Other news correspondents should use the Stark story as a model to draw attention to this national safety hazard. The correspondent could take a powerful opiate like Percocet (Oxycodone), demonstrate the effects, and then pass a Federal Drug test live on the air.
It is worth noting the DOT does not do the testing themselves, they simply set the standards that companies are required to use. A company must use the DOT standards but hire a private company to do the drug testing for them. So even if a private company wanted to test for Vicodin (Hydrocodone), on the mandated DOT test they are prohibited from doing so.
In conclusion, this story is about institutional hypocrisy just as much as it is about drug testing and a national safety hazard. On one hand, the government is frequently sounding the alarm on the nationwide opioid epidemic. The same federal government that reports (through the CDC) that deaths from prescription opioids like Oxycodone, Hydrocodone and Methadone has more than quadrupled since 1999. On the other hand, the government deliberately omits many commonly misused opiates from their national drug testing system.
In light of this safety hazard, there is something that the public can do to ensure that children and loved ones are safe. Whether you are using a coach bus company to go to Atlantic City, bring your school’s sport team to the big game, bring your children to camp, or for whatever reason, call the transportation company first.
Passengers must insist that any driver providing service is drug screened using a non-federal 10 panel test first. One would think that federal Drug tests are the golden standard, but as previously pointed out they are absolutely not.
A non-federal 10 panel drug test includes screening for dangerous opiates that are omitted by the federal test. Once a driver has passed a non-federal 10 drug test, a passenger can be assured that the driver is not under the influence of dangerous opiates that affect his/her ability to drive safely and walk a straight line.