New Federal Employee Drug Screening Guidelines to Include Opioid Testing

By Jonathan K. Larsen, JD, MPP

There is no denying that the United States is experiencing an opioid overdose epidemic. Drug overdose deaths generally in the United States have been associated, at least in part, with increasing mortality rates among white non-Hispanics, which is counter to trends in other wealthy nations. The Urban Institute’s Laudan Aron recently posted about the underlying causes of our current epidemic, paying special attention to aggressive marketing of painkillers, the related spike in opioid prescriptions, and the closely correlated increase in opioid abuse. The issue has even made it into the current Presidential campaign, however briefly. President Obama has sought increased funding to address the issue, as well as a focused private, state, and local effort to tackle prescription drug abuse. While opioid abuse has been on the rise, it is not typically part of employee drug testing, when employers choose or are required to test. This may be changing.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the federal agency responsible for drug testing standards for federal agencies, is poised to release drug screening guidelines (see page 4 (28104 in the Federal Register) that would expand drug screening for opioid abuse to federal employees, and could influence employee drug testing policies across the nation. The US Department of Defense has been testing for hydrocodone and benzodiazepines (used to treat anxiety and seizures among other things) since May 1, 2012. SAMHSA cites sobering statistics about opioid-related deaths now outnumbering deaths from illicit drugs, as it prepares to test for oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone, all classified as Schedule II drugs, or drugs with high risk of abuse, by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The proposed guidelines were released May 15, 2015, so the final rules should be coming soon. Continue reading

Overdose Update: Celebrity Edition

By Scott Burris

You’ve probably heard about the good news/bad news experience of Stephanie Bongiovi, daughter of rocker Jon Bon Jovi. A college student, she ODed on heroin, but help was summoned and she’s going to be fine. The (temporary) bad news for her (and longer term for others in her plight) is that she and a companion were arrested IN SPITE of a recent New York Good Samaritan 911 law passed explicitly to encourage people to call for help.

There are some technicalities and prerequisites, so if you want to see the law it’s available on LawAtlas. But if she or her companion sought help, and absent a hyper-technical reading of the statute (it literally does not protect a victim unable to seek help), the charges should never have been filed and should be dropped. The problem for the rest of us is that these laws only work if people at an OD scene know about them and trust them. High profile arrests like this are — and for once I think there might be some truth to this claim — sending a message not to seek help.

Meanwhile, Leo Beletsky, Jody Rich and Alex Walley have a fine little piece in JAMA that thoroughly catalogues the removable barriers to OD prevention. The table alone is worth thousands of words, which is nice because JAMA’s editors were pretty tight on the word limit despite the importance of the topic.