NTSB Study on Drug Use in Aviation Shows Upward Trend

The study shows an increase in the use of potentially impairing medications.

According to a study released by the National Transportation Safety Board this week, almost all of the crashes – 96 percent – that lead to the death of pilots were in general aviation. NTSB found an upward trend in the use of both potentially impairing medications and illicit drugs by pilots who died in these incidents.

"I think that they key take-away from this study for every pilot is to think twice about the medications you're taking and how they might affect your flying," said NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart. "Many over-the-counter and prescription drugs have the potential to impair performance, so pilots must be vigilant to ensure that their abilities are in no way compromised before taking to the skies."

The study looked at toxicology results for 6,677 pilots who died in aircraft accidents between 1990 and 2012. None of the pilots who died in large airline accidents had recently used illicit drugs, though some had been using potentially impairing medications. Over the period, the number of pilots testing positive for drugs with impairment potential went from 11 percent to 23 percent. The most common impairing drug was a sedating antihistamine (diphenhydramine) found in cold and allergy medications, as well as sleep aids.

The study explained that it was difficult to ascertain whether a pilot who tested positive was actually impaired at the time of the accident.

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