Are you safe in the skies? Why pilots aren’t tested for fentanyl

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Their deaths could be drug related.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The National Transportation Safety Board would support adding fentanyl to the government’s transportation drug testing regimen under the right conditions, the board’s chief medical officer told the Dayton Daily News.

NEW DETAILS: The nation's largest airline pilots union fought drug testing for decades — and still does

Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, is not included in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s current five-drug test covering certain railroad, commercial motor vehicle, aviation, pipeline, commercial shipping vessel and mass transportation employees.

RELATED: Spirit Airlines pilot’s likely overdose raises safety questions

Spirit Airlines Captain Brian Halye is suspected of fatally overdosing on the drug, according to the Montgomery County Coroner's Office. The Centerville resident and his wife were found dead by their children March 16, six days after his most-recent flight for Spirit.

“I think the underlying issue is opiate use, misuse and addiction is a huge societal problem in the United States, and unfortunately airline pilots are part of that and are not immune to the problem,” NTSB Chief Medical Officer Mary Pat McKay said in an interview with the Dayton Daily News.

With some restrictions, safety-sensitive transportation employees are tested during pre-employment, at random, when suspicion arises or after an accident occurs.

MORE: Spirit Airline pilot’s drug use appears ‘voluntary,’ police say

McKay told the newspaper NTSB members may support future proposals to screen for fentanyl if the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services could certify the testing protocol for labs to use. NTSB makes safety recommendations to the Department of Transportation.

DOT’s five-panel screen picks up marijuana, cocaine, opiates, phencyclidine (PCP), and amphetamines. Four opioid prescription medications — hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone — are proposed by DOT for inclusion in its drug testing panel later this year.

Fentanyl is not included in the DOT proposal, at least not yet.

“At the time they picked the drugs they were most interested in, fentanyl wasn’t a large problem,” McKay said. “Fentanyl has grown in its misuses in the United States. The problem is the system is always going to lag behind.”

Contact Staff Writer Will Garbe at 937-259-2086 or

The Dayton Daily News has examined hundreds of pages of records on aviation safety in the wake of a Centerville pilot’s death from an apparent drug overdose. In the coming days we’ll be posting stories that shed light on what controls are in place and whether future actions are warranted to protect the public.

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