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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

House panel's Democrats call on Chao to act on opioid rule

Two track workers were struck and killed by an Amtrak train in April 2016.
Photo – NTSB

Ranking Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee yesterday called on U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to take immediate action on a stalled rule-making that would add four prescription opioids to the drug-testing protocols of train operators and other safety-sensitive transportation workers.

The Democrats' request follows news that two Amtrak maintenance crew members were using opioids or cocaine when they were struck and killed by an Amtrak train in Chester, Pennsylvania, in April 2016.

Earlier this year, the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that the Amtrak engineer had marijuana in his system when he was operating the train, which was carrying 330 passengers and seven crew members at the time of the accident. The train struck a backhoe, which the two track workers were using at the time.

The cause of the accident is still under investigation.

In a letter to Chao, the lawmakers noted that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) does not currently require drug testing of safety-sensitive transportation workers for opioid misuse. Since 1989, the USDOT has required a five-panel test to include drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and phencyclidine (PCP).

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' mandatory guidelines for federal workplace drug testing programs became effective Oct. 1 and would allow USDOT to add four prescription opioids — hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, and oxycodone — to the drug-testing program.

The lawmakers' letter noted that the USDOT issued a proposed rule-making on Jan. 23 to adopt the HHS guidelines, but since then the rule-making has "languished in this administration."

Transportation workers are not immune from the current opioid-abuse crisis in the United States, the congressmen wrote. In 2016 alone, it's estimated that 11.8 million Americans misused such drugs.

"We strongly urge you to take action now to finalize this rule-making as a first step toward addressing the opioid crisis," the letter stated.

Signing the letter were Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), John Garamendi (D-Calif.), and Hank Johnson (D-Ga.).

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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