DHS Inspector General Issues Report on Efforts to Address Internal Opioid Use

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General (IG) has issued a report analyzing how Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Secret Service have dealt with opioid use in the midst of a national opioid epidemic. The report issued in November assesses how the components have addressed both legal and illegal opioid use.

The report found that the components overwhelmingly appropriately disciplined employees whose drug test results indicated illegal opioid use, based on their standards of conduct and tables of offenses and penalties.

Between the period of FY 2015 and FY 2018, the components analyzed conducted more than 100,000 random drug tests, of which 31 were positive for illegal opioid use. The IG confirmed that for every positive test, the components took disciplinary action in line with their directives or the employee resigned before corrective action was necessitated.

The IG found that the components also took additional measures to address prescription opioid use, including establishing policies to ensure the components are aware of how prescription opioid use may affect an employee’s ability to perform their work.

The report explains, “These measures, including specific offense charges and reporting requirements for prescription drug misuse, requirements for MROs to notify components of prescription drug use, and fitness for duty evaluations for employees using prescription drugs, balance the rights of employees to use legally prescribed opioids with their obligation to ensure their workforce is alert, responsible, and effective.”

For example, ICE included in their table of offenses and penalties that employees must not report for duty while under the influence of an “impairing legal substance to a degree that would interfere with proper performance of duty, be a risk to safety, or be prejudicial to the maintenance of discipline.”

The IG did note though, “Neither TSA’s nor ICE’s table of offenses and penalties, nor Secret Service’s reporting requirements, however, include guidance for the employees on how to determine whether their prescription drug use would interfere with their work performance. Of the four components, only CBP does not prohibit in its table of offenses and penalties the use of prescription medication that would impair an employee, or require employees to report misuse.”

The report also highlighted the role of the Medical Review Office (MRO) in voluntarily reporting potential legal opioid use which could become problematic for an officer in their official capacity. While ICE, TSA, and CBP have either voluntary or mandatory reporting standards written, Secret Service has no guidance on the issue. The IG described this as a “disadvantage” in assessing whether prescribed use presents a potential risk.

The report found that the components were doing a solid job of assessing if an employee prescribed opioids is fit for duty. All components either have or are building evaluation policies for fitness while on prescribed medication.

The IG issued one recommendation to CBP to “address the misuse of prescription opioids in either its table of offenses penalties and standards of conduct, or in employees’ reporting requirements.” The IG recommended that the Secret Service “evaluate whether to require its Medical Review Officer to provide safety concern notifications associated with employees’ prescription opioid use.”

Both CBP and Secret Service concurred with the recommendations.

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