The Seafarers Health and Benefits Plan’s (SHBP) medical department recently finalized a policy on prescription opioids and other medications that’s aimed at helping SIU members remain eligible to ship.
As announced during the April membership meetings, the policy covers the use of prescription opioids, benzodiazepines, or sedative hypnotics aboard ship as they relate to a fitness-for-duty determination.
During the April membership meeting in Piney Point, Maryland, Seafarers Plans Administrator Maggie Bowen noted, “Essentially, the department’s policy is consistent with new Department of Transportation (DOT) drug-testing regulations and aims to provide Seafarers with an extra layer of protection so they are not caught off-guard by a positive test. These new DOT regulations have been covered in prior membership meetings, in the January edition of the Seafarers LOG, and in multiple posts on the SIU website.
“Whereas the Coast Guard only would find out about such prescriptions either through a drug-test result or if a mariner presented a legally valid prescription to a medical review officer, the SHBP medical department also may learn about them through a review of prescription records,” she continued. “As you know, the Coast Guard’s medical certificate determines fitness for certification, which can be less than the standards for fitness for duty. However, because the agency does not permit a mariner to ship if he or she is taking opioids – except in very rare circumstances when a waiver is issued – the SHBP medical department policy attempts to help prevent anyone from being declared unfit.”
She concluded, “Put simply, if you’ve got a valid prescription for an opioid, you’ll need to work with your doctor to identify a different drug that does not make you medically unqualified or unfit for duty. And again, the root of this change is the new DOT regulations that took effect at the start of this year.”
The policy should not affect members of the SIU Government Services Division, because the Military Sealift Command medical department does not issue waivers for any opioids.
SIU members may direct questions to the SHBP medical department at (301) 994-0010.