Comforting: Growing Number Of Pilots Are On Meds

The captain is napping…”

Forty percent of all pilots killed in noncommercial airplane crashes in recent years have medication in their systems — a marked increase over previous decades, according to a draft government study obtained by CNN.

The most common drugs: antihistamines, which can cause drowsiness, and heart medications.

The most worrisome: illicit drugs found in nearly 4% of the deceased pilots.

All told, pilots tested positive for some sort of drug — be it over-the-counter, prescription or illicit — in 40% of fatal accidents in 2011, up from 10% in 1990, according to the study.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which conducted the study, called the jump “significant,” saying it mirrors medicine use in society as a whole.

It cautioned that the mere presence of drugs does not necessarily mean drugs contributed to the accident. Indeed, investigators say drugs contribute to about 3% of all fatal plane crashes — a level that has remained constant for two decades.


This brings up a question about just how superhuman we expect pilots to be. It seems that the only real solution would be individual assessment of side effects on every pilot, hardly a practical approach.

The antihistamines are worrisome, though. The sleep-inducing ingredient in many over the counter sleep aids is an antihistamine (diphenhydramine) and can really have powerful effects. I’d much rather a pilot be sneezing a lot than dozing off.


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