DETROIT – Airline pilots are randomly tested for safety reasons, but the Local 4 Defenders uncovered serious lapses in the testing program that could cause concern for flyers.
Right now, pilots aren’t being tested for some of the most addictive painkillers on the market, and while the federal government said it’s working feverishly to fix that, pilots will not be tested for one of the biggest opioid killers, fentanyl, even though top safety officials said they should be.
Planes take off from Detroit Metro Airport and other airports across the country about 75,000 times each day. Aircraft filled with passengers cross the country, and the pilots become responsible for many lives.
But pilots aren’t being tested for many popular opioids, and 64,000 people die every year from opioid overdoses.
“The first reaction anyone has is, ‘How could this possibly be bad?'” Dr. Michael Harbut, M.D. said.
Doctors familiar with opioid abuse know the dangers of addiction. Those hooked on opioids have a terrible time getting clean, and addiction can happen to anyone, including airline pilots.
Pilot Brian Halye, and his wife, Courtney Halye, recently died in an apparent overdose.
Brian Halye, of Ohio, had been a pilot for nine years. He and his wife died from fentanyl. They were two of 20,000 fentanyl overdoses in 2016.
Fentenyl claims more lives than any other type of opioid, and there is no plan in place to test for it in pilots anytime soon. That worries passengers, who had no idea pilots were not being tested.
“With the epidemic that it is in society today, why wouldn’t we?” asked Ryan Rezmierski, of Ann Arbor.
Pilots are currently tested for alcohol and drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, meth and PCP. But some of the most popular prescription drugs aren’t on the list.
Government bureaucracy and battles with the unions increase the amount of time it takes to add new drugs to the testing list. It’s been many years since the testing policy has been adjusted.
Federal officials said they will soon add four opioid prescription medications — hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone and oxymorphone — that would catch most of the popular painkillers.
“If you’re going to go looking for them, once you find them, you really need to know to be responsible to society and to the flying public on what to do next,” Harbut said.
While it’s obvious flyers don’t want pilots high on pills, doctors and union officials warned that testing for prescriptions is an imperfect science. Medications taken under a doctor’s care are perfectly safe and should be allowed, so finding abuse isn’t as easy as finding a drug in a blood or urine test.
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