Thursday, September 11, 2014

NTSB Study Shows Upward Trend in Use of Impairing Medications in Aviation

© Trifunovic
A new study, adopted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), found an upward trend in the use of both potentially impairing medications and illicit drugs of pilots who died in crashes.

"Drug Use Trends in Aviation: Assessing the Risk of Pilot Impairment," examined toxicology results for 6,677 pilots who died in aircraft incidents between 1990 and 2012. Over the 12-year span, the percentage of pilots testing positive for drugs with impairment potential nearly doubled from about 11% to almost 23%. The most common impairing drug was a sedating antihistamine (diphenhydramine) found in many cold and allergy medications as well as sleep aids. 

According to the study, none of the pilots who died in large airline incidents tested positively for illicit drugs, though some had been using potentially impairing medications. It could not be stated with certainty that more pilots are flying impaired, but the increasing number of incidents involving pilots choosing to fly after taking potentially impairing drugs, suggest that pilots are either unaware of the risks or consider such risks acceptable. 

The study included six safety recommendations. In addition to those recommendations, the NTSB issued a safety alert urging pilots to consult medical professionals about the potentially impairing effects of any drug that they are taking, carefully read medication dosing instructions, and to refrain from flying if they feel impaired in any way.

Further research is needed to better understand the relationship between drug use and incident risk. 

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