Flying high: Substance abuse among public transportation workers - Sovereign Health Group
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substance abuse among public transportation workers
02-01-16 Category: Substance Abuse

substance abuse among public transportation workers

David Hans Arntson, a former captain with Alaska Airlines, was arrested last Wednesday for piloting commercial flights while intoxicated on multiple occasions. Two separate breathalyzer tests indicated blood alcohol levels of 0.134 percent and 0.142 percent, compared to the acceptable level of 0.10.

“Those in command of passenger jets, or any other form of public transportation, have an obligation to serve the public in the safest and most responsible way possible,” said the U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “We cannot and will not tolerate those who violate the trust of their passengers by endangering lives.”

Unfortunately, illegal drug use and misuse of alcohol are a lethal reality in many facets of American transportation.


Hundreds of commercial and private airline pilots have been diagnosed and treated for a vast range of serious psychiatric and medical conditions, including schizophrenia, attempted suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse.

Medical record data from 2008, 2009 and 2010 provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) highlighted:

  • 2,700 pilots treated for alcohol abuse and another 1,253 diagnosed as alcoholics
  • 1,377 pilots treated for drug abuse and another 94 for drug dependence

About 40 percent of all pilots killed in noncommercial airplane crashes in recent years have had some type of drug in their system, according to a government study by the National Transportation Safety Board, up from 10 percent in 1990.

Even though the mere presence of drugs did not necessarily contribute to the accidents, investigators say drugs contribute to about 3 percent of all fatal plane crashes – a statistic that has stayed constant for two decades. Medications present special risks to pilots due to the increased popularity of potentially impairing prescriptions.

Commercial trucking

Use of marijuana and prescription drugs has become increasingly common on the highways, raising new safety concerns, according to two studies released by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

NHTSA’s Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers discovered that even though the number of drivers with alcohol in their system had declined by nearly one-third since 2007, there was a large increase in the number of drivers using marijuana or other illegal drugs. The 2014 survey showed that nearly 1 in 4 drivers tested positive for at least one drug that could affect safety.

Weekend nighttime drivers with evidence of drugs in their system rose from 16.3 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2014. The number of drivers with marijuana in their system shot up by nearly 50 percent.


The 1987 Safety Board investigation assessed a total of 156 selected accidents in which testing for alcohol or drugs was available in 103 cases. In almost 29 of these accidents, one or more railroad or rail transit employees used alcohol and/or drugs, including prescription drugs. Since the introduction of testing in the 1990s, rates of positive tests have declined.

Sovereign Health of California is a leading behavioral health center, devoted to the evidence-based treatment of addiction, mental illness and co-occurring disorders. If your dependency on drugs and alcohol is hindering you from doing your job and fulfilling your responsibilities, you owe it to not just yourself but others around you to get the help you need. Call us right away through our 24/7 helpline.

Written by Sana Ahmed, Sovereign Health Group writer

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