AOPA submitted comments in response to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s proposed changes to its drug testing program, including the use of oral fluid samples (saliva test) as an alternative to urine testing. While the change continues to uphold the safety goals of the program, AOPA cautioned the agency to keep privacy top of mind in its testing protocols.
In a February 28 Federal Register announcement, the DOT stated that the addition of oral fluid testing would “help combat employee cheating on urine drug tests and provide a more economical, less intrusive means of achieving the safety goals of the program.”
While the proposal mostly affects pilots for commercial airlines, cargo operators, or charter operators, AOPA wrote that it “appreciates and supports the DOT’s efforts towards transparent, fair, and accurate drug and alcohol testing in this proposal through clarifying regulatory language, achieving harmonization with other guidelines, and addressing issues that have arisen in practice.”
AOPA also cautioned the DOT to consider privacy implications of using commercial videoconferencing platforms when conducting remote evaluations for substance abuse professionals, as it could lead to individuals unknowingly exposing otherwise protected information. For example, certain videoconferencing platforms may retain personal data including call history data for up to 30 days after the data is deleted. AOPA stressed the importance of putting safeguards in place in the interest of user privacy.
Another proposed change in the DOT testing program was allowing staff to assist medical review officers in verifying prescriptions for increased efficiency. However, AOPA cautioned that technical calls such as whether a certain medication contains a particular ingredient that could trigger a positive result should be at least reviewed by the MRO.
In its comments, AOPA also encouraged the DOT to retain its one-year retention period for non-negative specimens. AOPA argued that the new proposed 90-day period may pass well before a pilot is able to retain legal counsel, expert witnesses, and ultimately make the decision to have additional testing of the sample performed for litigation purposes.