New study examines aircraft accidents and airline employee drug use

A new study finds that an airline employee who has been involved in an accident is three times more likely to test positive for drugs than an employee who is not involved in an aircraft accident. The study was conducted by researchers at John Hopkins University School of Health and The Columbia University College of Physicians and is currently being prepared for journal publication.

The researchers looked at the prevalence of positive drug tests for aviation employees during the period from 1995 through 2005. The study included both those employees who were tested as a result of being involved in an accident as well as those who were tested as part of a random testing program. While the increased likelihood of positive drug tests among employees involved in accidents is concerning, the overall prevalence of positive tests among airline employees remains relatively low.

In random tests, aviation employees who were not involved in accidents had a rate of positive drug tests of just over one half of one percent. For employees involved in an accident the rate was just under two percent. So while an employee who would test positive for drugs is about three times more likely to be involved in an aviation accident, the vast majority of aviation accidents do not involve an employee who tests positive for drugs. According to the researchers just over one percent of aviation accidents are attributable to drug violations.

Even though relatively low percentage of airline flight crews test positive for drugs and that only about one in a hundred aviation accidents result from drug use, the fact that illegal drug use by the flight crew occurs at all is troubling. For the family and friends of someone injured or killed in an airline accident that involves an airline employee using illegal drugs, the fact that it was statistically improbable may not provide much comfort.

Source: Addiction “Drug Violations and Aviation Accidents: Findings from the U.S. Mandatory Drug Testing Programs” (accepted for publication but not yet published) 2011

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