Conductors to be tested for over-the-counter drugs after rail accidents

The 33-page rule, which will be published in the Federal Register on March 5, includes a provision that will keep “the test results confidential while [the agency] continues to obtain and analyze data on the extent to which prescription and over-the-counter drug use by railroad employees potentially affects rail safety.”

Rail officials say the testing is needed because of the possible “unintended side effects” from the medications that are caused when drugs are mixed or misused.

The FRA completed a study of the 294 reported railroad accidents between 2002 and 2009 where “human error” was partially the cause. In 80 percent, or about 235, of those accidents one or more employees involved reported having taken “at least one generic or brand name drug, and many employees reporting the use of multiple substances.” Some of those mixed substances included “herbal remedies and dietary supplements.”

Railroad officials said the actual use of non-controlled substances was higher than reported in the study because some of the employees likely forgot about medicines they used or chose not to report them.

The FRA said it received seven comments to the proposed rule. Rail labor groups opposed the regulation, arguing it might “discourage” conductors and rail employees from using common prescription and over-the-counter drugs when sick.

“The resulting risks from untreated medical conditions could outweigh the possible adverse effects from the medications used to treat them,” the labor commenters said.