Concerns about trucker drug use have long been a pressing issue within the industry. In 2013, for example, Reuters reported on troubling studies demonstrating a significant number of truckers were using marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, amphetamines, and other intoxicating substances. As many as 20 percent of truckers had admitted to marijuana use, according to Reuters, while around 12.5 of truckers tested in one study were found to have alcohol in their systems.
Unfortunately, many in the industry are now more worried about trucker drug use than ever before. The problem: the opioid epidemic that is ensnaring thousands throughout the United States and significantly increasing the risk of truck collisions occurring.
According to Health and Human Services, an average of 3,900 people per day in the United States begin opioid use for non-medicinal purposes. An additional 580 people daily begin to use heroin, on average, throughout the United States. Opioid use has reached crisis levels.
This increased use of opioids has already begun having very profound consequences. In the most recent year with available data, 2014, there were more deaths due to drug overdose than at any time since statistics were first collected on overdose fatalities. HHS indicates approximately 60 percent of the deaths involved opioid use, including both heroin and non-prescription / non-medicinal use of opioid drugs.
While overdose deaths are bad enough, there is a grave risk when people like truck drivers begin to use opioid medications. Truck drivers cannot safely operate their vehicles if they are on opioids while driving. They endanger every motorist on the road.
Trucks.com indicates many carriers are nervous about rising drug use and are asking the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to make a change to drug testing rules. Under the current rules, drivers are screened for drug use using urine tests. Numerous carriers have asked the FMCSA to change the rules so hair tests are used instead.
It is believed the use of hair tests could provide better and more accurate information so trucking companies will be more easily able to avoid employing drivers who may be using opioids and other drugs. However, some are concerned about the increase rate of false positives if such a change is made.
Carriers have a strong interest in identifying truckers who are using opioids or other controlled substances. A trucking company can generally be held accountable if one of its drivers causes an accident while performing work tasks. This means a trucking company could likely be made to pay damages to a victim for a crash a trucker causes while the driver is on opioids. These types of cases can result in substantial damages, and trucking companies should do everything possible to avoid putting their business at risk.
Victims of truck accidents need to understand their rights to pursue a claim against a trucker and trucking company which employs that driver.