How to Market Your Substance Abuse Professional Services (SAP)

July 7, 2019
Anna Jankowska, LCPC

By Anna Jankowska, MA, CEAP, SAP, LCPC

Anna Jankowska is a mental health, addiction, and substance abuse counselor with over 17 years of experience and has specialized training and skill in working with individuals, groups and communities to improve mental health outcomes. NPI number: 1598843526

What is a SAP?

The Department of Transportation (DOT) regulation defines the Substance Abuse Professional as a person who evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol regulation and makes recommendations concerning education, treatment, follow up testing and aftercare. In order to be a SAP, you need to have certain credentials, possess specific knowledge, receive training and achieve a passing score on an examination. If you are unfamiliar with the SAP process, please refer to DOT SAP Guidelines in 49 CFR part 40, procedure 4 Transportation Workplace Drug and Alcohol Testing Program. Whether you are a new SAP, seasoned one or you want to begin your SAP Services this article is for you.

Overview of the DOT Alcohol and Drug /Alcohol Testing Program

The Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act requires DOT agencies to implement drug and alcohol testing of safety-sensitive employees to maintain safety of the public.

What is a DOT drug/alcohol test?

It’s a drug or alcohol test regulated by the Department of Transportation. The DOT’s drug/alcohol screening rules and procedures are listed within Title 49 of the Code of a Federal Regulations Part 40.

Who is required to get DOT drug tests?

  • Federal Aviation Administration
  • Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
  • S. Coast Guard
  • Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
  • Federal Railroad Administration
  • Federal Transit Administration

When are safety-sensitive employees required to get DOT drug/alcohol tests?

DOT drug tests are required in the following situations:

  • Pre-employment, or before you start your job responsibilities.
  • Reasonable suspicion/cause, or if one or more trained supervisors reasonably believes/suspects that you are under the influence of drugs. This must be based on observations concerning appearance, behavior, speech, smell, etc.
  • Random testing. Random tests must use a truly random selection process – each employee must have an equal chance to be selected and tested. These are completed quarterly.
  • Return-to-duty testing, which is required after a violation of drug and alcohol rules. You can’t return to any DOT job before being tested and may be subject to unannounced testing at least 6 times in first 12 months. These tests must be conducted under direct observation.
  • Follow-up testing that takes place after return-to-duty. A Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) manages the follow-up testing for up to 5 years, determining how many times an employee is tested, and for what substance. These are completed in addition to other DOT required testing.
  • Post-accident testing. This is required if you’re involved in an accident meeting certain DOT criteria. An alcohol test must occur within 8 hours of the accident, and a drug test within 32 hours.

What happens when I fail my DOT drug/alcohol test?

If you fail your DOT regulated drug test, DOT regulations require your employer to immediately remove you from performing any DOT safety-sensitive job. There may be other consequences, too, like losing your certification or license. This depends on your company’s policy or employment agreement. During the process of testing a physician- Medical Review Officer (MRO) is reviewing the drug/alcohol test results for accuracy. Then the results are sent to the designated employer’s representative (DER), and he notifies the employee about the need of SAP evaluation. Payment for the SAP services is usually decided by the employer. Sometimes it is covered by the employee and sometimes by the employer. Some health insurance companies also have special provisions for the coverage of SAP process.

How do you market your SAP service?

1. Referrals from designated employee representatives (DER).

Once you start receiving the referrals the job of the SAP would be to forward

the initial evaluation letter to the DER. Many times, the client will not have the required information about the drug test and you will have to contact the DER to obtain this information. Many DERs will contact you directly asking questions pertaining to SAP process, especially the length of the SAP process and required treatment/education. It is important to not only fax or e-mail the evaluations but also mail them and also include your business card. Communicate with the DER asking him questions pertaining to his company’s substance abuse policy and other needs he might have such as education of employees and supervisors. Remember that small trucking companies go out of business quite often and employ many owner’s operators who change companies all the time. When you communicate with DERs as well as employees they will remember your services and tell other business owners as well as employees about you. You have two ways two different research companies and their DERs. You can do an internet search for a trucking or other type of DOT regulated companies and prepare a list that you can send information to about your SAP services. You can also purchase a list of DOT regulated companies from an online database that specializes in market searches. I can offer you samples of my own postcard design that I have successfully mailed to many DOT regulated companies. Make sure you address your letter to a DER since many companies have a designated person responsible for safety. Smaller companies might have a DER who is also responsible for other things. I have been receiving most of my clients from DER referrals. Make sure you help DERs understand the SAP process. Many of them are unfamiliar with the regulatory requirements, and they want you to be their educator. Having personal relationships with DERs will make you a person to go to when they have any safety questions regarding drug and alcohol policy. Remember that DERs of companies talk to each other, and they will refer you to other companies. If you receive a direct referral from a DOT regulated company or from a client the fee for your services could be anywhere from $400 to $600 depending on your prior work and agreements with the company.

2. Referrals from drug/alcohol testing companies and collection sites.

There are only few drug/alcohol companies that are approved for testing. Therefore, clients who need drug and alcohol testing go to local collection sites. These places are all over the United States, and they are also familiar with the SAP process. Drug/alcohol testing employees often refer their clients to SAPs. You can contact these companies either by mail or email and introduce your services explaining exactly what you do and how you can help drug/alcohol testing companies when they have clients who test positive. You have to understand that these companies also need clients. If they send referrals to you, they expect you to send the clients to them also. You can do it easily by sending your clients to them back for follow up testing, especially if these clients are unemployed and do not have a designated drug testing company. Collection sites especially have more time to be with the client and get to know them better. The process of testing is pretty long, and they see the same clients over and over again. Once the client tests positive for a specific drug, they will be visiting the collection site quite a lot because they will be doing follow up testing on top of their random drug testing.

3.Referrals from consortia and third-party administrators.

Consortia / third-party administrator manage many administrative functions for the company including their DOT alcohol and drug testing. They often provide random selection and other types of testing for the given company and monitor the employees with their alcohol/drug testing procedures. Some consortia / third-party administrators have their own SAPs to whom they refer their employees. Once the participant has taken the selected test the sample is sent to the lab and MRO and the information is transmitted back to consortia / third-party administrator. From that point on the information is transmitted to the DER. Consortia / third-party administrators monitor the drug/alcohol testing at all points including the aftercare and follow-up testing. Therefore, they have connections not only with SAPs but also with treatment providers. Many consortia / third-party administrators welcome SAPs who can provide services for them and like to have few SAPs to whom they can refer. Remember that these companies specialize in providing administrative help to many DOT regulated entities and they look for SAPs who can finish assessments in a timely manner. Communicate with these companies whenever you have a client referred by them because they can be a stable referral source for you.

4. Referrals from Medical Review Officers (MRO).

A medical review officer is a person who is responsible for reviewing laboratory results from the employee’s drug testing program and confirming the drug tests results. MRO often talks to the employees, DERs, collection sites employees in order to confirm the test results. Many of my clients have actually been referred to me by MROs. Smaller trucking companies, especially those who deal with foreign speaking employees might not be familiar with the referral procedures. Their DERs contact MROs for clarifications and referrals.

5. Referrals from treatment centers or other SAPs.

Whenever you refer a client for education/treatment, these companies can also refer back to you. Many treatment centers also have SAPs who provide drug and alcohol assessments and need to refer their clients out. If you are interested in providing both assessments and treatment for DOT regulated employees, you can do so if you can obtain linkage agreements with other SAPs and treatment centers. Remember that you can’t provide both services to the same client. I work with several SAPs that refer clients for education and/or treatment to me. They know me personally, and they know what they can expect from my services. They want my help in completing everything in a timely manner.

6. Referrals from SAP services solely dedicated to DOT Drug and Alcohol Compliance.

Since EAPs cannot always serve as providers of substance abuse assessment and treatment, free-standing companies were created to act as a referral service of SAP providers. These services refer potential clients to SAPs. You need to register with them as a SAP, and they will send you clients depending on the location of the SAP evaluation needed. These services pay a lot less to the SAP since they are a middleman and charge very high fees. These services are usually paid for by the employee, and then the SAP services pay the SAP provider after the assessment has been completed. Depending on the location where you practice and availability of other SAPs you might get a different amount of referrals. I have been getting a steady flow of referrals from these companies, and they usually pay around $200 to the SAP. It makes sense to be on their referral list since you might build good connections with the clients and their DERs. Employers do change their SAP providers so you should be on the lookout for the new opportunities.

7. Referrals to provide safety education to employees and supervisors.

SAPs can provide other services that are important to DOT-regulated companies. The most popular is a supervisory training that is actually required by DOT. This supervisory training can be done in person, via webinars or via instructional materials. Many large companies hire SAPs to provide ongoing training to their supervisors and other employees. Preparing good materials for teaching drug and alcohol safety is very helpful to employers and might also be a good marketing way of presenting your service.   Keep in mind that SAP services are perceived by employers as a true extension of EAP services, not regular substance abuse assessment and treatment. There is a lot of conflict between the actual needs of the client and productivity of the company he works for. Make sure you are the gatekeeper of the safety of the public. Do what’s best for the wellbeing of the client and the public. Be ethical in the way you provide your services and make sure you do not have any financial benefit from referring your clients to treatment providers or vice versa. It is important that you have good connections with treatment providers in order to help the client and expedite the process in a timely manner, but you cannot receive any financial benefits from these connections.

These are only some of the ways you can market yourself as a SAP. There are many more, and I have extensive experience in providing marketing to other SAPs.

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1 Comment
  1. Thank you so much for the referral information.
    I need to be independent concerning marketing my services.
    SAP listing and brokers are not enough.

    How do I introduce my SAP service directly at the clearinghouse violators immediately?
    Got any ideas?

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