Numerous reports over the spring and summer have suggested that substance use disorders are on the rise as a result of the uncertainty, mental health challenges and isolation that are part and parcel of life during COVID-19.
Excessive alcohol consumption is one of the issues that medical and public health experts are particularly concerned about. While it is too soon to definitively know the effects of the pandemic on drinking patterns, studies show that since March total alcohol sales in the U.S. have been up between about 30 and 50 percent each month, compared to a year ago.
Certainly, employers must be vigilant about on-the-job alcohol use and we, in the drug and alcohol industry, need to be prepared to provide quality alcohol screening services.
NDASA members understandably have many questions and concerns about how to keep both collectors and test subjects safe from virus transmission when conducting alcohol screening.
We, at NDASA, are confident that with careful training, increased protection and cleaning protocols as well as new routines and processes, our members can continue to provide thorough and federally compliant alcohol testing services – while at the same time mitigating risk.
When Breath Alcohol Testing with an Evidential Breath Testing (EBT) Device:
- The testing area should be sterilized and wiped down in advance. Do not use alcohol-based cleaning products.
- Use extreme caution with hand sanitizer in your facility. This product should not be used near or by someone administering a test. Instead, follow the handwashing protocols outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Regularly clean your breath alcohol tester with an antimicrobial cleaner or disinfectant that does not contain alcohol.
- Follow CDC guidance for specimen collectors including using recommended personal protective equipment such as facemasks, eye shields, and gloves.
- The tester should make every effort to keep as much of a social distance from the donor as possible. (Six feet is probably not feasible as the collector needs to be able to control the EBT device during testing.)
- Have the donor blow away from the collector.
- The vented breath “exhaust” should be covered by cotton ball or dry sterile cloth if it will not interfere with accurate breath alcohol measurement. (This should be placed on the device, not attached and must not impede or obstruct the airflow at all.)
- Do not allow the subject to touch the tester.
- Use a new, freshly opened mouthpiece for every test. Utilize the ejection tab on the mouthpiece to remove directly into the trash.
- Take care not to touch the “wet” end of the mouthpiece even when wearing gloves.
- Limit the number of people in the facility to allow for as much open space as possible.
The good news for testing subjects? A recent study, conducted by NDASA member, Lifeloc, a leader in the development and manufacturing of drug and breath alcohol testing devices, found no detectable virus transmission through their BAT devices with proper usage and precautions. (Find the Lifeloc study release here.)
Saliva Testing Alternative
Consider saliva testing as another screening option that may make both technicians and donors feel more at ease. Saliva testing is Department of Transportation compliant (check the NHTSA Conforming Products List for DOT-approved devices) and can be self-administered by the donor. However, saliva testing can only be used for screening purposes. A non-negative result MUST be confirmed by an EBT device after a 15 to 30-minute wait period, according to DOT regulations. Training is required for saliva testing.
SALIVA TESTING GUIDANCE
- (1) The technician should open the Alcohol Screening Device (ASD) package, (2) show the donor the expiration date on the package and (3) step back. (4) The donor then places the device into their mouth and swipes, (5) puts the device down and (6) steps away. (7) The technician steps up to begin timing and to read the results.
- No other equipment is required.
- The screening technician can maintain a 6-foot distance from the donor and no direct contact is necessary.
- For DOT testing, the technician needs to be aware that if the screening results in a > 0.020 reading, an EBT must be used to confirm within 30 minutes.
The coronavirus has created a new normal for the drug and alcohol testing industry. We are considered essential workers, and as the repercussions of the pandemic become more evident our work will become even more critical. But we also need to feel safe. The work we are doing now to put new safety precautions and routines in place, will serve us well as we continue to deal with this pandemic and potential future health crises. Check the NDASA COVID-19 Resource Page for the newest tips, information and guidelines specific to our industry.