drugs and flying
The word "drug" evokes
an image in the minds of many people far different from its actual
medical meaning. Because of current concern over drug abuse, the term
"drug" is often interpreted to mean marijuana, heroin, LSD,
barbiturates, or amphetamines. Actually, a drug is any chemical compound
administered to produce a specific effect on the body.
The illicit use of the
"psychoactive drugs" (mentioned above) which distort the mental process,
hardly needs to be discussed here. Certainly no responsible pilot would
consider mixing any of these drugs with flying.
medications taken for minor ailments can also jeopardize safe flight by
their subtle or unpredictable effects on the pilot. This includes both
prescribed medications and over-the-counter medicines. Even the simplest
of home remedies should be suspect, including aspirin, cold tablets,
cough mixtures, and laxatives.
Recent studies of
aircraft accidents suggest that certain categories of drugs may have
side effects which contribute to pilot error, and hence to accidents.
1. Antihistamines: a group of drugs widely prescribed and readily
available for sufferers of hay fever and other allergies. Drowsiness is
a common side effect.
2. Tranquilizers: a variety of agents
usually prescribed for nervousness and hypertension. These, too, may
3. Reducing agents and "pep" pills: a
class of drugs generally containing amphetamines. They can produce a
feeling of high spirits and false confidence, while actually crippling
one's judgment and leading to reckless errors.
4. Barbiturates, nerve tonics, and pain
killers: a broad category of medications intended primarily to relieve
anxiety or reduce pain. These drugs generally suppress mental alertness.
dangers which may accompany pill taking are:
1. Drug allergies: An allergic response
to a drug can arise unexpectedly and dramatically, disabling a pilot in
2. Unexpected side reactions: Different
people may react in different ways to the same medication. For example,
a drug which has no significant side effects in most individuals may, in
a few, produce nausea or vertigo.
3. Change of effect: High-altitude flying
or "G" forces have been observed to change the effect of some
4. Effect of drug combinations: Two drugs
taken at the same time occasionally cancel each other out, render each
other more potent, or cause a side reaction not experienced with either
medicine alone. For example, dangerously high blood pressure has
resulted from the use of nose sprays by person taking antidepressants at
the same time. Even eating some foods in combination with certain
medicines has produced dangerous conditions.
You should be just as
cautious with over-the-counter remedies as with prescription
medications. If you are uncertain about taking a particular medicine
before or during flight, consult your AME or your personal physician.
Remember, too, that the
need for medicine implies the presence of an illness. And if you are
ill, you have no more business in the air than a rough-running engine.
The safest rule is to take no medicine before or during flight without
consulting your AME. Not only might the medication dull your alertness -
it might suppress the symptoms of your illness, making you feel better
than you really are. No pilot flies as well when his system is run down,
even by a cold.
The pilot who flies
while ill or while taking disqualifying medication is violating FAR Part
61.45. Most important, however, he is unnecessarily jeopardizing his own
and his passengers' safety.