A long-term investigation into plane crashes over the last twenty years has revealed some alarming results. The National Transportation Safety Board discovered an upward trend in the use of impairing medications and illegal drugs among pilots. The overwhelming majority were among general aviation pilots rather than commercial pilots.
Authorities have found that four times as many pilots who were killed in plane crashes tested positive for some kind of drug compared to crashes that occurred in the twenty years prior to the study period. Investigators began to look into the drug history of pilots as they realized that more and more of the public was abusing drugs. The increase in drug abuse led many to wonder if pilots were abusing more drugs than before as well.
The NTSB explains that some of the drugs the pilots tested positive for would not affect their ability to fly a plane. They did admit that there were some pilots testing positive for sleeping pills, narcotic painkillers and marijuana – all of which would certainly have an impact on their piloting skills. Interestingly, the most common drug to be found in the pilot’s systems was Benedryl. Benedryl is an antihistamine that can cause drowsiness.
The report goes on to explain that pilots are not taking the side effects of prescription and over the counter medication seriously. Forty percent of pilots who were killed in plane crashes in 2011 tested positive for prescription drugs or over the counter medications that would have impaired their ability to fly a plane safely.
“Some drugs have the potential to significantly impair the user’s level of alertness, judgment, reaction time or behavior leading to transportation accidents,” explained an NTSB spokesperson.
In addition to over the counter medication and prescription drugs, illegal drugs increased as well. Just over 2 percent of pilots tested between 1990 and 1997 tested positive for illegal drugs. That percentage grew between 2008 and 2012 to nearly 4 percent. The increase in pilots failing the test for illegal drugs is being attributed largely to marijuana use.
The National Transportation Safety Board did not test for the presence of alcohol in any of the crashes, however they are confident that alcohol does not play a significant role in the cause behind plane crashes over the last twenty years.