Virtual SAP Evaluations and Minimizing Marijuana Use

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The role of Substance Abuse Professionals (SAP) is critical in protecting public safety from issues of drug and alcohol use. They act as the “gatekeeper” of the return to duty (RTD) process by evaluating the employee to determine recommendations and readiness to return to safety sensitive duty. As the future of healthcare moves more toward telehealth, virtual evaluations have become more mainstream for SAPs to use to conduct evaluations. In fact, ASAP has seen the adoption of virtual evaluations reach over 80 percent. However, this has also led to an increase in recommendations of virtual education, especially when the violation is for marijuana. Minimizing marijuana poses a potentially less than positive outcome for the employee and a risk to public safety.

Virtual Evaluations

Virtual evaluations provide a convenience to both the SAP and the employee, however, there are times when they are not appropriate because virtual assessments are more difficult to assess physical appearance and behaviors in comparison to an in-person situation. For example, behaviors, tics, and other physical signs may not be evident in virtual evaluations leading to less intense treatment recommendations. Anecdotal observations over the last two years have shown that virtual assessments have led to more virtual care models and less intense treatment recommendations, especially in cases involving marijuana. Special consideration should be given to repeat offenders, multiple substances, or any other high-risk scenarios where a physical presence may be a more effective method for evaluation, and the SAP must take these factors into consideration when determining recommendations and the impact on public safety.

Legalization of Marijuana

Marijuana is now legalized in 18 states, while many others have varying levels of decriminalization or approval for medical use. Yet, this does not change the risks that marijuana poses to public safety. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (2104), “marijuana can harm a driver’s ability to pay attention, awareness of time and speed, and ability to draw on information gained from past experiences.” Another issue is the amount of time that marijuana stays in the system. A person that has not used marijuana for a month may still test positive on a DOT drug test, effecting a person’s ability to drive safely (NIDA, 2014). Regardless of legality, marijuana can have mind-altering effects just like alcohol.

Regulation of CBD Products

Another point of contention and confusion for employees is CBD products. These products contain THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and remain unregulated on a federal level. Therefore, using these products can cause an employee to test positive on a DOT drug test. The SAP needs to remain vigilante when conducting evaluations in these cases and not minimize the effects of these products or normalize the treatment options. Clinical consideration of the situation of the employee and the circumstances of the violation should play a vital role when deciding on the best recommendations for the employee.

ASAP SAP Network

American Substance Abuse Professionals offers nationwide substance abuse evaluations for employees, helping to create a safe workplace and limit liability for employers and employees. ASAP places a high value on our SAPs offering them a support system and valuable insight into DOT regulations and the use of virtual evaluations. If you are interested in joining our network or have a tough case, call us at 888-792-2727 x604 or at #Worksafely

NIDA. (2014). Legal marijuana and driving: A public safety problem.


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