Opioid Epidemic Leads to Increase in Trucking Accidents

By: Melanie J. VanOverloop, Source: The Legal Examiner, Originally Published: 6.19.17

Opioids are a class of highly addictive substances which are often prescribed for pain relief.  An individual taking an opioid can have slower reaction times, reduced coordination, blurred vision and drowsiness – all side effects that can impair a person’s ability to operate a vehicle safely. Currently, almost half of the nation’s truck drivers are over 50. Decades of sitting behind the wheel of a truck for extended periods of time can lead to back pain, joint pain, arthritis and many other medical conditions for which opioids are often prescribed. Although federal regulations prohibit drivers from using opioids and driving unless a doctor has advised them to do so, some drivers do not disclose their opioid use. The combination of opioids and the operation of a motor vehicle – particularly a commercial vehicle like an 18-wheeler – can be catastrophic.

Despite the obvious safety hazard, federal regulations do not include opioids in their drug testing panels for pre-employment, post-accident, random, follow-up or return-to-duty drug testing. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation have physical qualification requirements for drivers of commercial vehicles, however there is a lack of uniformity or consistency in how prescribing doctors define a truck driver’s ability to operate a truck while using opioids. This problem is further compounded by the reliance on the truck driver to self-report on their medical examination any medications. If the opioid prescribing doctor and doctor performing the medical examination are not the same, there is no way to verify whether or not the truck driver is accurately reporting their active medication list.

Many motor carrier companies do not have a prescription drug policy – they simply do not ask employees about prescription drug use and the employees do not tell them. The Department of Transportation’s current drug testing is limited to marijuana, amphetamines, phencyclidine, cocaine, and opiates – and opiate testing often excludes common prescription opioids. Truck drivers’ opioid use and its effects on highway safety needs to be more transparent. More education and implementation of drug policies at the federal, state and corporate levels can help eliminate the dangers associated with opioid use and the operation of a commercial truck. If you are a loved one has been injured in a trucking accident, contact the trial attorneys at Rapoport Law Offices to discuss your rights.