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What Are the Rules for Truck Drivers Taking Opioid Pain Killers?

Prescription opioids, such as Vicodin, Demerol, and OxyContin, have become very popular as a means of treating acute and chronic pain. But there are several problems with taking opioid medications. There are uncomfortable side effects, including dependency, and the risk of drowsiness is so prevalent that patients are warned not to mix the drugs with alcohol or to operate heavy equipment while taking the drugs. But what about a commercial truck driver, who suffers from debilitating, chronic pain? Is the driver allowed to work while taking prescription opioids?

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, the answer is no, unless it’s yes. The general rule is that drivers cannot use “a drug identified in 21 CFR 1308.11 (391.42(b)(12)) or any other substance such as amphetamines, a narcotic, or any other habit-forming drug.” Opium derivatives are included on the list of substances that disqualify a driver. However, the prescribing doctor can write a note clearing the driver to work while taking the medication. When that happens, it’s up to an FMCSA Certified Medical Examiner to determine the driver is unable to work. However, the medical examiner does not actually examine the driver to determine fitness; he or she is limited to a review of the medication and a request of information from the prescribing doctor.

But how closely is the prescribing doctor monitoring the driver? From the moment the driver receives the scrip, everyone involved must rely on the driver to report adverse effects and to refrain from using the meds if usage compromises job performance. Of course, in that case we are relying on a person with financial responsibilities to choose not to work rather than to work with what might seem like a mild impairment. The driver could also choose to work without taking the drug, but that might raise concerns about the driver’s pain interfering with performance behind the wheel.

Does the FMCSA rule sacrifice highway safety for commercial drivers’ rights? We may need more data about the risks of opioid medications before we can be certain. But the rule may raise a question of whether a prescribing doctor or the medical examiner might be liable for a truck accident after they clear a driver to operate a commercial truck while taking opioid medications.

If you have questions about your truck accident case, speak to a knowledgeable attorney at Massengill, Caldwell & Coughlin, P.C. Call us today at 423-797-6022 to schedule your free initial consultation, or contact us online.

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