Pilots and Medications

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General Aviation Joint Steering Committee

Pilots and Medications

Outreach Guidance Document

2015/05/13-071 (I) PP Rev 2

This outreach guidance is provided to all FAA and aviation industry groups that are participating in outreach efforts sponsored by the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC). It is important that all outreach on a given topic is coordinated and is free of conflicts. Therefore, all outreach products should be in alignment with the outline and concepts listed below for this topic.

Outreach Month: July 2017

Topic: Pilots and Medications

The FAA and industry will conduct a public education campaign emphasizing the best practices for determining whether medications prescribed for or acquired over-the-counter (OTC) by pilots are hazardous to flight operations.

Background:

Several studies published by the FAA Toxicology Laboratory on toxicology samples of deceased pilots indicated the presence of illicit drugs, and prescription or over-the counter medications in 42% of subjects tested. While NTSB and FAA have not necessarily cited drug or medication use as a causal factor in these accidents; the magnitude of these findings poses two questions. Have the drugs found in recent investigations, diminished pilots ability to safely conduct flight operations? Have the medical conditions requiring use of those drugs compromised pilots ability to fly safely? It may be impossible to say after the fact to what extent a drug compromised a pilot's capability but it's safe to say that a consultation with one's Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) is a good idea before flying while using any drug.

Teaching Points:

  • 42% of pilots in fatal crashes had some sort of drug/medication in their systems during the flight.
  • Some of these medications carry very specific warnings against operating machinery or motor vehicles or performing tasks requiring alertness. Flying certainly is included, even in a glider or hot-air balloon.
  • Illicit drugs always impair human performance.
  • Healthcare providers may prescribe drugs that could compromise pilots' abilities - especially if the doctor is not aware that the patient is a pilot.
  • Combinations of prescription and OTC medications can be particularly dangerous. Pilots should consult their AME before taking a combination of medications.
  • AMEs are trained to advise pilots on negative and positive effects of drugs with respect to aviation.
  • Pilots must truthfully report all medical conditions and drug use on their medical application forms and should consult their AME with respect to all medical conditions and drug use before flight.

References:

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