Increase in plane crashes linked to spike in pilot drug addiction says NTSB

A study and report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) say that pilots tested positive for drugs four times more often following fatal accidents in 2012 than in 1990. The Board found more use of drugs among aviation pilots including a spike in the use of cocaine and marijuana. In addition, there has been an increase in the use of sleep-inducing antihistamines and sedatives were present in 10% of pilots who died between 2008 and 2012. Drugs like Vicodin and Valium were the most commonly found sedatives.

Researchers compiled data using documented toxicology reports of pilots who died in plane crashes between 1999 and 2012, which included data on more than 6,600 pilots. More than 40 percent of the pilots had drugs in their systems, which is an alarming increase from 10 percent in 1990. Toxicology reports were done on nearly 90 percent of the pilots who died.

Overall marijuana use among pilots increased to 3% from 1.6% in 1990. Typically younger pilots were more likely to use marijuana than older pilots.

The NTSB safety board indicates that it is alarmed by the increase in drug use and is calling on doctors and the Federal Aviation Administration to warn pilots about how performance may be affected by taking drugs of any kind, including over-the-counter medication. The findings of the full NTSB safety report will be available within the next few weeks.