4 Opioids Added to Drug Test Screenings for U.S. Pilots

Starting January 1, 2018, all drug test screenings for U.S. airline pilots, truck drivers, and train engineers will include four new opioids. In recent years, opioids have shown up in post-accident drug tests and have been detected during autopsies in various aviation accidents. The federal government hopes this new drug testing rule will keep Department of Transportation workers and their passengers safe from the effects of highly addictive drugs like opioids.

Why Test Pilots for Opioids?

Drug Test Screenings

Opioids can delay a pilot’s reaction time, putting passengers in danger.

Opioids are painkillers that cause extreme sedation and drowsiness, and that can impair cognitive function to interfere with aviation and driving performance. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, opioids join the list of drugs that can impair pilots even when they feel they’re alert enough to fly. But using opioids legally or illicitly can delay a pilot’s reaction time and judgement, and increase the risk for an accident.

The four new opioids being added to DOT drug test screenings beginning Jan. 1 are oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, and hydromorphone. These drugs join marijuana, cocaine, PCP, and amphetamines on the list of banned substances for pilots and other DOT workers.

Drug testing among pilots has come under close scrutiny in recent months after three drivers in a 2016 Amtrak collision tested positive for drugs — including illicit oxycodone. Between 2009 and 2015, random drug tests for railroad workers found that drug use increased by 43%. Pilots who have valid opioid prescriptions are now required to show their prescriptions to Medical Review Officers who can take proper steps to prevent pilots from operating aircraft while under the influence.

Preventing Opioid Dependence Among Pilots

Opioids are commonly prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, but opioids are among some of the most addictive prescription drugs available, and can lead to physical dependence when used for longer than 14 days. The FAA is now urging pilots who suffer from pain to seek alternative pain treatments that don’t involve the use of opioids.

Here are ways pilots can lower their risk for opioid dependence:

  • Avoid using another person’s medication. Using opioids without a valid prescription is unlawful, and increases the risk for tolerance, dependence, and an overdose — especially since doses are tailored to the person the opioids are originally prescribed for.
  • Do not use opioids for reasons other than prescribed. Using opioids for recreation or to relieve anxiety and depression increases the risk for addiction.
  • Dispose properly of unused opioids. Return unused opioids to drug take-back locations such as pharmacies and police stations to prevent opioids from being used illicitly by friends, family, and visitors to your home.
  • Use over-the-counter drug testing kits to detect opioids. The FAA urges DOT workers to consider using OTC drug test kits to determine whether they need more time to allow opioids to leave their systems, and to determine whether they may need help overcoming opioid addiction.

Getting Help for Addiction

Just like lawyers, doctors, and other workers with high-stress jobs, pilots and rail workers are not exempt from addiction. In the U.S., addiction treatment is required by law to stay confidential so professionals can seek help without facing workplace discrimination and other backlash.

Opioid dependence can be treated at any opiate detox center using a medical detox, rapid detox, medically assisted detox, or medication-assisted treatment. Some of these detox methods use FDA-approved medications that can relieve and eliminate all opioid withdrawal symptoms. Opiate detox treatments are often combined with therapy sessions that can teach patients skills for staying sober and navigating everyday life without turning to drugs and alcohol.

If you or someone you love needs help fighting addiction, call our 24/7 confidential helpline immediately at 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) . Our experienced addiction specialists will discuss all your available opioid treatment options, and help you find the nearest opiate detox center ready to help you become healthier and achieve sobriety.

Get Help Today Phone icon 800-654-0987 Info icon Who Answers?