The prevalence of prescription, over-the-counter and illicit drugs found in bodies of fatally injured pilots has continued to trend upwards, according to a finding in the National Transportation Safety Board’s Safety Research Report. Almost all of the crashes – 97% – were in general aviation.

Drugs
Percentage of fatally injured pilots with positive toxicology findings for potentially impairing drugs and conditions, controlled substances, and illicit drugs, 1990-2017. NTSB graphic.

Investigators noted a positive toxicology finding didn’t necessarily indicate that the pilot was impaired at the time of the crash, only that the pilot had used a specific drug (or drugs) at some point prior to the fatal accident.

Of the 952 pilots fatally injured between 2013 and 2017 with available toxicology test results, 28% tested positive for at least one potentially impairing drug, up from 23% in a similar 2014 study. About 5% tested positive for an illicit drug, a slight increase from the less than 4% in the 2014 study.

The FAA, in response to an NTSB recommendation, recently published guidance to pilots for reading and understanding medication labels as well as information on how long a pilot should wait before flying after using a potentially impairing drug.

“Simply put, impairment can kill,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. “There’s still a lot of work to do to eliminate impairment-related accidents on the roads, on the rails, on the water and in the skies.”

Safety Research Report 20-01 is available online at https://go.usa.gov/xdH5W.

The 2014 study is available at https://go.usa.gov/xphce.

FAA information for pilots about impairing drugs is available online at https://go.usa.gov/xphcG.