Trucking group responds to truck driver study on hair drug tests

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 1,954 views 

The research and educational arm of Grain Valley, Mo.-based trucking group Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association recently responded to a study that highlights the benefits of hair drug testing compared to urinalysis and shows truck drivers’ use of cocaine and illicit opioids is being underreported by the federal government.

In the whitepaper Truckers Prefer Cocaine: Study or Marketing Material?, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Foundation questioned the reliability, validity and conclusions in the study that was recently released by the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, or the Trucking Alliance, and completed by University of Central Arkansas researchers.

“In fact, the research only proves that (Trucking Alliance) member drivers have historically used cocaine more than marijuana,” the white paper shows.

According to the Trucking Alliance study, twice as many drivers likely would’ve been disqualified from driving if a hair drug test was completed for their pre-employment screening instead of a urinalysis. The study compared nearly 1.43 million driver pre-employment urinalysis results reported by the federal government’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse with 593,832 urinalysis and hair test results submitted by Trucking Alliance carriers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration oversees the clearinghouse, but the agency only accepts urinalysis test results, according to the study.

“The UCA’s study lacks the very basics of a valid and reliable research effort,” according to the white paper. “The study includes no analysis, demographic information, literature review, hypothesis or even methodology. Peer review is a key component of any good research project in order to properly evaluate and verify the findings. UCA provides limited information and yet expects the reader to accept their conclusions on blind faith.”

Other concerns regarded state-level changes in the legality of marijuana use and how a urinalysis can better detect current marijuana use compared to a hair test, according to the white paper. Also, the white paper questioned the study’s data comparison of test results from the Trucking Alliance carriers with that of the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. Another issue regarded whether urinalysis and hair tests are comparable.

“Research has shown that hair tests can lead to false-positive results because certain drugs – like cocaine – which are found on common surfaces, including dollar bills, can be absorbed into hair,” the white paper shows. “There is currently no way to fully cleanse hair of these drugs. Furthermore, cocaine binds to African American hair at greater rates than it does to fine, light-colored hair. Damage to hair caused by treatments like straightening and perming and certain cosmetic products can further facilitate drug absorption. Hair drug testing methods are currently incapable of distinguishing whether drugs found in the hair come from environmental contamination or from ingestion.”

The white paper also noted the study didn’t compare drug use to safety or crashes and suggested comparing whether Trucking Alliance carriers have better crash statistics than those in the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.

In a rebuttal to the white paper, Doug Voss, professor of logistics and supply chain management at UCA, said the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Foundation “did not carefully examine our past work or the current report, and ultimately, created a nameless, faceless document that argues semantics and ignores accepted research norms.”

Voss cited his 2020 peer-reviewed research that Trucking Alliance drivers “are hired from a nationwide pool with a statistically significant geographic correlation to the U.S. truck driver population as provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” He noted the sample size of drivers in the new study is more than 17 times the required sample size needed to “make inferences to the U.S. truck driver population.

“We also provide statistical evidence that positive urine tests reported to the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse and those reported by the (Trucking Alliance) are significantly correlated, which provides evidence that the (Trucking Alliance) sample is generalizable to the (Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse) sample,” he explained. “(Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Foundation)’s criticism is invalid.”

Voss agreed urinalysis is better for post-accident drug screenings; however, the study regarded pre-employment screenings to determine past drug use.

He also addressed the concern that the study didn’t look into safety outcomes between Trucking Alliance drivers and those of the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.

“This was never the purpose of our work, which is clearly defined in its very first sentence,” Voss said. “We do believe examining hair testing’s safety outcomes would be interesting; however, the safety benefits of removing drug users from the road appear obvious.

“Hair testing is established science,” he added. “It is employed by the trucking industry, law enforcement agencies and U.S. courts in child custody cases. Our current work clearly demonstrates that hair testing is superior in its ability to catch drivers who engage in the use of cocaine and opioids.”