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How common is pilot drug abuse?

Anytime you board a flight in New York, whether getting on a small plane, a helicopter, a commercial airplane or something else entirely, you assume a certain level of risk. Mechanical failures, weather-related complications and pilot errors are always possibilities, but according to one study involving the use of certain drugs by pilots, pilot errors caused by drug abuse should also be valid concerns for flyers.

According to CNN, in one study involving 6,677 pilot deaths that occurred between 1990 and 2012, almost 4 percent of pilots who died had illegal drugs in their systems at the time of their crashes. Additionally, 40 percent of all pilots who died had some sort of drug (illegal, prescription or over the counter) in their systems when they lost their lives, marking a 30-percent jump since 1990.

Just what types of drugs are pilots using while flying? Research shows that the prevalence of drug abuse among pilots is similar to the prevalence of drug use among the rest of the population. In terms of illicit drugs, marijuana use was the most common drug abused by pilots. Many prescription medications, too, are common, with 12.4 percent of pilots who died having cardiovascular drugs in their systems at the time of their deaths, and another almost 10 percent, antihistamines. Despite their broad use, antihistamine medications can cause drowsiness and other side effects, meaning they have the potential to impair a pilot's ability to operate an aircraft.

Because of the increasingly broad nature of pilot drug abuse, the Federal Aviation Authority has ramped up its efforts as far as testing the bodies of pilots after fatal crashes, ultimately adopting a testing system that now identifies more than 1,300 substances.

While this information about drug use by pilots is informative, it is not a substitute for legal advice.


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