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Continued from page 1

Proposed New Drug Testing Study Of All
Pilots Who Obtain Medicals
"Staff from the FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI)
only briefed one group-on February 18," Oord said. "We were
surprised and concerned they are testing pilot's urine without
their knowledge or informed consent. We are also concerned that
unlike current glucose testing during medicals the urine would be
secretly sent off to the FAA with pilot identifying information. It is
the secretive nature of the study that bothers us."
The problem with the test is that it is being performed without
reference to whether or not a pilot is flying that day. For instance,
Oord explained, a pilot could have a cold or be recovering from
illness and schedule their aeromedical exam with no intention of
flying that day or even that week. Such a study would not capture
the prevalence of drugs in the systems of flying pilots so results
would be misleading.
"Thus, a positive urine test for a drug would merely mean that
the pilot took a drug a day, several days, or even weeks before
the urine collection-not at the time he or she intends to operate
an aircraft," the group wrote in their letter to the FAA. "That
determination is irrelevant to the assessment of whether a pilot is
actively flying with a potentially impairing drug in his bloodstream
or body. For that reason, the NTSB used only toxicology results
from pilots' blood and tissue specimens and specifically excluded
drugs found only in urine. The FAA's flawed study methodology
would fail to accurately report drugs present in flying pilots who
are still living. Nor can it accurately identify 'safety risks of using
drugs while flying' as requested by the NTSB Recommendation."
As for comparing results of such testing with accident pilots,
the group is concerned that would be like comparing apples and
oranges. "Comparing data from urine drug tests with data from
blood and tissue specimen tests (with urine results excluded), will
not yield scientifically meaningful results," said the group's letter.
"The two categories of data are identifying drugs imbibed by two
different pilot populations, at two different time frames in relation
to pilot flying. Because the urine test results cannot definitively
show drug use, or impairment while flying, such data would not be
a valid basis of analysis with the NTSB toxicology data."
The group urged the FAA and NTSB to instead launch an
education campaign to alert pilots of the OTC drugs and their
dangers to impair. According to Oord, the FAA has not yet
released a list of problematic medications, which would assist the
group in launching the campaign.
The NTSB, to its credit, has already launched an education
campaign on the impairment caused by both prescribed and
OTC medications and, recently, Vice Chair Bruce Landsberg gave
aviation leaders at the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association


a briefing on the drugs found in accident pilot systems. He led
his speech with the subject and called out diphenhydramine as
particularly problematic, owing to its ubiquitous use in blood
pressure medication, Ambien, muscle relaxants, Advil PM, Nyquil,
Tylenol, and Robitussin.
"Society as a whole is becoming increasingly medicated," Oord
said. "The FAA's concern is now higher for prescribed and OTC
drugs; even more than illegal drugs, which have a relatively
small number of occurrences in aviation. We understand what
medications might be impairing from toxicology reports from
accidents, so we have the fact-based data now."
The FAA has noted accurately that many pilots don't understand
the extent of the impairing effect of common medications or the
length those medications stay in the system, according to Oord.
The industry has already updated pilot handbooks of aeronautical
knowledge and textbooks to reflect this, and AOPA, along with
its Air Safety Institute and other signatories to the letter are being
proactive, informing their members about the problem.
The organizations will continue to press for clarification from the
FAA as to the status of the study.

- Kathryn B. Creedy has decades of experience in aviation covering
trends in aviation, aircraft, airlines, and travel.


Premium on Safety - Issue 33, 2019

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Premium on Safety - Issue 33, 2019 - Contents
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