The effect of alcohol and drug abuse by transportation workers is often a serious one.  Accidents and crashes have been found to a direct effect of alcohol and drug abuse; therefore, working hard in regulating the use of alcohol among transport workers improves a lot of things and results in safety.

The department of transportation in the United States has adopted into its scheme of things, a policy that centers on the employment of certified drug-free operators at various transportation levels-road, rails, water, and air-to ensure safety and decrease the occurrence of accidents.  The policy brings into the scene a substance abuse professional often referred to as SAP, saddled with so many responsibilities as regards drug regulation and alcohol consumption among transportation workers.

The department of transportation (DOT) regulation-49 CFR Part 40-defines a substance abuse professional (SAP) as a person who evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol regulation and makes recommendations concerning education, treatment, follow-up testing, and aftercare.  The Job description of a substance abuse professional factors so many things in consideration; ranging from employee evaluation to education and treatment.  These actions are to ensure proper orientation and knowledge acquisition for the employees.



A SAP can be a licensed physician (doctor of medicine or osteopathy) or a certified social worker; certified marriage and family therapist; a certified employee assistance professional; licensed psychologist;; or an alcohol and drug substance abuse counselor certified by the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors Certification Commission (NAADAC) or other bodies such as the National Board of Certified Counselors, Inc. and Affiliates/Master Addictions Counselor (NBCC) and International Certification Reciprocity Consortium/Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (ICRC).

In addition, there is also basic knowledge a SAP is expected to possess.  Basic knowledge about the treatment and diagnosis of substance abuse related disorders, it is expedient that a SAP possesses skills in handling assessed employees found to have violated the DOT rules; the clinical experience will come in handy in the decision-making process.  A SAP not only has an intense role to play in the assessment and treatment of substance abusers who have violated the DOT rule, A SAP is a Gatekeeper for the DOT’s return-to Duty.

Major decisions taken by the SAP goes a long way in determining the safety of the public which consists of children, mums, fathers, strangers, close friends, acquaintances, husbands, wives, strangers, and many other entities.  Riding on the decisions made by a SAP is the entire public and a confused employer who might not be certain about placing an employee behind the steering wheel of a school bus.  A SAP is not to be biased about making informed decisions, with the primary objective being safety; a substance abuse professional is to assume support with neither the employer nor employee based on sentiments.

A SAP is expected to have received qualification training; this means that it does not boil down to being certified alone.  The training qualification includes so many elements and essentially the nine required components laid down out in section 281(c) of part 40.  Also, A SAP is expected to have undergone a compulsory examination to ensure that there is a thorough understanding of the requirements of what being a SAP entails.  The examination is expected to be validated by a test evaluation organization, and it must be given by a training organization.  It should also contain all the elements required for the qualification training.  Twelve (12) professional developmental hours should also be completed.

Alcohol and controlled substance users are to be prevented from performing transportation safety-sensitive functions to ensure the safety of the public, and this is usually achieved through deterrence and detection-using various methods-such as breath analysis and urinalysis testing.  Some employees end up with a Failed Drug Test, as a consequence of substance abuse.  A Failed Drug Test means that the employee tests positive for drugs-most especially hard drugs.  Since transportation workers are needed to test drug-free, an employee having a Failed Drug Test will require the services of a Substance abuse professional.  A SAP is responsible for various duties which include evaluation, referral, and treatment who are found wanting through the methods of testing listed.  Some alcohol abusers sometimes refuse to get tested; they are often referred to a substance abuse professional especially if they violate other Department of transportation rules.

It is also of importance to note that the duties of substance abuse professional involve conducting a face-to-face evaluation with the client to ensure that necessary non-verbal cues are noticed and internalized.  These cues include; the feelings of the clients, the thought pattern of the client, an also the internal feelings.  In addition, the client’s carriage, appearance, posture, relational abilities, eye-contact attempt and other physical characteristics should be well noted.  These assessments will enable SAP to identify other hidden details and single out individuals who might likely be harmful to themselves and those around them.  The rule violation that led to the employee being required to have SAP evaluation should also be looked into.

Furthermore, in determining recommendations for the client’s assistance, substance abuse professional is unexpected to allow the employee’s claim of inaccurate testing process affects the recommendation process.  Also, any statement aimed at lessening the violated rule should be discarded by the SAP.  As we have earlier established, the personal opinions and judgment of the SAP as regards the drug and alcohol testing should not be considered.  Everything should be based on professionalism which hinges on facts and figures.  Doing what is right to protect the entire public in the long-run is a function of substance abuse professional which cannot be over-emphasized.

In cases whereby an employee refused a drug test because of substituting specimen, or where the employee tests positive, the substance abuse professional in charge may consult with the Medical Review officer who verified the employee’s drug test to ensure that adequate information is gathered for the evaluation.  They are free to engage in an open discussion as regards the test result and other relevant medical information.  Also, no third party is required to interfere with the SAP report.

Adequate knowledge as regards quality programs and qualified counsellors will come in handy in the treatment process.

In conclusion, a thorough understanding of the 49 CFR parts 40 is essential for SAP.  Close attention should also be paid to the Subpart O-substance abuse professional and Return-to-duty process; the Subpart P-Confidentiality and Release of information; Subpart Q-Roles and responsibilities of service agents and Subpart R-Public interest exclusions.  These will make the goal of safety realizable and effective as SAP.


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