Addiction Helpline and Resource Center

Pilots and Prescription Drug Addiction

Pilots and Prescription Drug AddictionThe idea that the pilot of the plane that is taking you on a business trip or vacation could be high on prescription drugs is not something you want to think about when boarding a plane. However, the fact remains that pilots are simply a subset of our culture, and a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) study showed that the presence of illicit and legal drugs in pilots involved in civil aviation accidents was the same as the non-flying public. Therefore, whatever statistics are available for the general public’s abuse of prescription drugs can be applied to pilots.

FAA Aviation Accident Study

Of 5,321 pilots involved in aviation accidents, there were 467 occurrences of either illicit drugs or commonly abused prescription drugs, accounting for 11 percent of all pilots that were involved in aviation accidents. The findings of this study also showed the following:

  • Pilots were slightly older on average than other drug users in the U.S.
  • The use of marijuana by pilots was more prevalent than the use of all other illegal and prescription drugs.
  • Marijuana was seen two times as often as the next most used drugs.
  • After marijuana, opiates, benzodiazepines and cocaine were the most often used drugs.

The findings suggest that there is no greater or lesser amount of drug addiction for pilots as for the general public, but the findings are alarming to the general public because of the vast responsibilities that pilots have.

FAA Permission for Use of Prescription Drugs

In 2010, the FAA made a “permission to fly while medicated” decision, which allows pilots to take antidepressant psychiatric drugs, including Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa and Lexapro. The FAA stated that modern psychiatric drugs have fewer side effects. However, the FAA also provides guidance to pilots on how to deal with prescribed medications that includes the following:

  • Be sure that the prescribing physician knows you are a pilot.
  • Ask what are the possible side effects and the safety of using the medication when flying.
  • Understand the medical condition for which you are being treated and encourage the prescribing physician to discuss this condition with the aviation medical examiner to discuss the implications.
  • Tell the pharmacist that you are a pilot.
  • Ask the pharmacist for written information about your medication that often provides advice that supplements the information that your physician gives you.
  • Read, understand and follow the information and instructions that are given with the medication.
  • Never hesitate to discuss possible problems with your physician or pharmacist.

While this is good advice for pilots, this is also good guidance for all consumers of prescribed medications.

Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction

Discontinuing prescription drug abuse on your own is extremely uncomfortable and even dangerous. There are physical, mental and emotional effects of the withdrawal that need to be properly managed by a detox team. Detox alone is not enough. Individual and group counseling, especially with a professional who has worked with pilots, provides education, awareness and support to enable pilots to recover from prescription drug addiction.

Get Help for Prescription Drug Addiction

If you or someone you know is addicted to prescription drugs, call our toll-free number today. We are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you may have about prescription drug addiction recovery treatment. We are here to help.

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