Industry Insights

Understanding the DOT’s Drug & Alcohol Regulations

On October 29, 2018, DISA Global Solutions hosted its very first ‘Day with DISA’ conference. This drug testing symposium helped educate employers on trending topics in the industry that directly impact workplace safety and compliance. Employers who comply with the Department of Transportation (DOT) for their business have specific guidelines and policies that they must follow, which often contradict or cause confusion with the everchanging marijuana legalization laws which vary by state. The symposium helped to address and clarify topics that the DOT specifies, while also clarifying the differences laws with non-DOT employees versus DOT employees. 

This is a deep dive into the complexities of the DOT’s drug testing regulations and was presented in October 2018. If you want to focus on the latest 2019 Drug & Alcohol Testing rates click here.

If you didn’t get the opportunity to attend the Day with DISA conference, or if you would like to review this presentation again, you can download or watch it using the link below.

DOT Drug and Alcohol Regulations



DISA invited Dr. Donna Smith, Senior Consultant at Current Consulting, to present on drug testing for safety-sensitive positions, specifically those in the Department of Transportation (DOT). The ever changing and evolving laws on the legalization of marijuana make it increasingly difficult for employers to stay-up-to-date, and those in the DOT industry are faced with strict guidelines that must be adhered to, to maintain compliance and meet safety standards.

Dr. Smith addressed updates on DOT regulations, use vs. abuse, age of prescriptions, Medical Disclosure Policies, and safety concerns from the Medical Review Officer (MRO). Here are some key takeaways to keep in mind:


1. 2018 DOT Significant Regulatory Changes
  • January 2018 began expanded opioid testing for oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, & hydromorphone.
  • New requirements for MROs in disclosing and reporting medication safety concerns.
  • Part 40 definition of prescription was modified for Schedule 1 drugs.
  • Random drug testing rate increased to 50%.


2. Prescription Drug Use, Abuse, and Misuse
  • NTSB, ONDCP, SAMHSA, etc. indicate that abuse and misuse of controlled substance medications is more prevalent than “illicit” drug use.
  • It is considered abuse or misuse of a prescription medication if you use it while performing tasks which it is contraindicated. For example: using when it says not to use while operating heavy machinery.
  • According to a survey conducted by the 2017 National Safety Council:
    • 71% have been affected in some way by employee use of prescription drugs.
    • 47% have experienced absenteeism or impaired worker performance.
    • 26% have experienced a near-miss/injury, overdose, or arrest.

71% affected by employee use of prescription drugs
47% absenteeism or impaired worker performance
26% near-miss/injury, overdose, or arrest

3. DOT Position on Medical and Recreational Marijuana Use
  • 49 CFR Part 40, at 40.15€ does not authorize medical marijuana under a state law to be a valid medical explanation for a transportation employee’s positive drug test result.
  • CBD oil is classified as a Schedule I and is prohibited under DOT regulations.

4. Medication Safety Concerns from the MRO
  • The MRO must disclose drug test results and medical information derived as part of the verification process to third parties without the employee’s consent if:
    • (1) The information is likely to result in the employee being deemed medically unqualified under an applicable DOT agency regulation.
    • (2) The information indicates that continued performance by the employee of his or her safety-sensitive function is likely to pose a significant safety risk.
  • 5 Day Pause Requirement- The MRO must advise the employee that, before informing any third party about any medication the employee is using pursuant to a legally valid prescription consistent with the Controlled Substances Act, they are allowed 5 business days from the date of the reported verified negative result for the employee to have the prescribing physician contact the MRO to determine if the medication can be changed to one that does not make the employee medically unqualified or does not pose a significant safety risk.


5. Medication Disclosure and Use Policies
  • Limit addressing medications to those that are controlled substances and/or those that have label warnings that impact cognitive or motor functioning.
  • Limit scope of medication information disclosure.
    • To whom medication or medical information is disclosed
    • What specific information is shared or disclosed?


Forming a clear and concise policy is a priority for employers, especially those who do business with DOT regulations as they do not always coincide with the state laws. “You cannot have a one-size-fits-all policy”, states Dr. Smith. “You have to be able to assess and evaluate the potential risks associated with not having good, medical information about your employees. Certainly, for employees that you require a medical exam for on a recurring basis.”


With the opioid epidemic on the rise and marijuana laws changing by state and by day, employers have got to be as precise as possible when forming a medical disclosure policy to protect their employees and companies. Dr. Smith indicates that “for the first time, from 2012 to 2016, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health has had misuse or abuse of prescription drug use as the second highest category in drug use, with marijuana being first.” With prescription abuse on the rise, along with the legalization in marijuana laws, employers must be more aware of the DOT regulations and enforce them, regardless of state laws.

DOT Drug and Alcohol Regulations



Read about other presentations from Day with DISA:


For more than 30 years, DISA has been a provider of workplace safety and compliance services. DISA helps companies make more informed staffing decisions by offering a broad array of industry-leading methodologies to make employee screening faster and more accurate. For more information about DISA call 1-800-752-6432 or email sales@disa.com.