Drug and Alcohol Misuse Threats

With the FAA expanding the scope of drug testing, contributor Stephen Prentice reviews the regulations and how maintenance professionals can protect their careers.


In a previous article we noted the coming expansion of the drug and alcohol testing requirements for those working in aviation activities who are defined as performing a safety sensitive work function directly or by contract for a regulated employer. There is little doubt that a large number of workers will be added to the testing pool. The testing business will probably expand by a factor of one-third. We urge all new additions to the testing pool to be aware of the threat to their jobs in the event of detected substance abuse.

Common questions

Already those new workers to be included are asking the same questions that came from the original groups included in testing. Things like … “will I test positive for marijuana if I spend time in a room where it is being smoked …?” The quick answer in the past and now is … it depends. How much time since exposure? How much time in the room? What size room? Generally speaking, casual contact for brief periods of time will not register a positive. But there is a point at which saturation will occur. Before a test, it would be prudent to advise the Medical Review Officer (MRO) and place into the testing record any extenuating circumstances that might affect your test results, such as medications you’re taking. The reason for this record is obvious in order to help explain any deviant test results. But, don’t expect the “I was just in the room” excuse for a positive to fly with the medical review officer. Best to avoid the problem in the first place by leaving the premises when you know smoking is going on. It is not worth the hassle that could occur.

Also, since California and Arizona have passed laws regarding the legal medical use of marijuana, the question frequently is asked … will this legal use under state law provide a legitimate basis for a positive finding of THC (the marijuana metabolite)? The answer is no! This is not and never will be a legitimate reason. The only legitimate reason for a positive finding of THC (marijuana) is a prescription for a drug called marinol.

Another question that comes up is the legal consumption of foods that contain hemp seeds or extracts accounting for finding THC in a test. A medical review officer will never accept an assertion of consumption of a hemp food product as a basis for verifying a marijuana negative test. Don’t bother.

Be advised that these and other novel explanations for a positive finding of marijuana or other prohibited drugs just will not work at all and will get you re-tested and perhaps fired.

A brief review of some of the program elements follows to advise and educate a new group of workers and to remind some original ones as well. Recent inquiries show that testing questions keep coming up. Lets look at some parts of the program.

Keep in mind that the best advice for a professional technician or anybody else that has not to date been included in the testing pool is to become informed about the rules and testing procedures so that one knows where he or she stands from the beginning. If you value your job pay attention.

What events trigger testing?

New people added to the system should be aware that there are six basic events that can trigger testing. Pre-employment is of course the most common; periodic is governed by annual company requirements; random is nothing more than surprise testing; reasonable cause happens when a supervisor thinks you are under the influence of something; return to duty means that testing can occur when you have been away from work for an extended period of time. For example, persons who are hired or return to work after failing a previous drug test, or for other reasons are subject to unannounced drug testing in accord with regulations. Post accident means after any kind of accident that may have been due to, or could have been contributed to, by the presence of a prohibited substance in an individual involved with the accident. Testing is required within 32 hours from the time of the accident and may be conducted at the time of any medical treatment as a result of the accident.

This content continues onto the next page...

We Recommend

  • Article

    How to Just Say No: A look at drug and alcohol regulations

    How to "Just Say No" A look at drug and alcohol regulations By Fred Workley Fred Workley Drug and alcohol testing is a way of life for aviation industry employees. This is...

  • Article

    Drug and alcohol testing update

    Drug and Alcohol Testing Update The Permanent Bar By Stephen P. Prentice July / August 1998 Stephen P. Prentice is an attorney whose practice involves FAA-NTSB issues. He has an...

  • Article

    Beware

    of random alcohol and drug testing.

  • Article

    What's It All About?

    Domestic vs. foreign repair station controversy