Flying Under the Influence: Commercial Airline Pilots & Mind-Altering Drugs

A 2007 FAA report revealed that of the 61 air crashes between 1990 and 2001, 'the pilot's psychological condition and/or SSRI use was reported to be the probable cause or a contributing factor in 31% (19/61) of the accidents.'

The Germanwings co-pilot is not the only commercial pilot reportedly under the influence of mind-altering psychiatric drugs to purposefully crash a plane

By Kelly Patricia O’Meara
April 1, 2015

Mania, psychosis, hallucinations, depersonalization and suicidal and homicidal ideation. These all are documented side effects from 134 international drug regulatory agency warnings on the very drugs that commercial airline pilots are allowed to take. While not everyone taking these drugs will experience these side effects, what is certain, based on hundreds of drug warnings and studies, is that a percentage of the population will.

And no one can predict if one of them will turn out be a commercial airline pilot.

 Update April 2, 2015 : Medical records indicate that Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot who crashed the Germanwings plane last week in the French Alps, was on medications for depression, anxiety and panic attacks, including Lorazepam [an anti-anxiety drug] that can have dangerous side effects, German newspaper Bild reported.

Andreas Lubitz, co-pilot of Germanwings flight 9525 blamed for purposefully flying the aircraft into the French Alps and killing all on board, had a long history of mental “treatment” and psychiatric drug use. According to German police investigators, numerous prescriptions for psychiatric drugs were found at Lubitz’s home, including antidepressants. His former girlfriend, who ended the relationship in 2014, also admitted that he told her he was in psychiatric treatment, according to Germany’s Bild newspaper.

German newspaper Die Welt also reported that investigators had found evidence of a serious “psychosomatic illness,” and that Lubitz had been treated by “several neurologists and psychiatrists.”

NC Plane Crash

The pilot of the 2008 Mount Airy, North Carolina crash had the antidepressant Zoloft in his system when he purposefully crashed the airplane, killing all on board.

While Lubitz’s suidcidal/homicidal action of purposefully crashing a commercial plane carrying passengers may be shocking to many, it is not an isolated incident. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported that the pilot of the 2008 Mount Airy crash had the antidepressant Zoloft in his system when he purposefully crashed the airplane, killing all on board. The CVR of the crash revealed the pilot was singing “save my life I’m going down for the last time,” and advising passengers “if anybody back there believes in the good Lord, I believe now would be a good time to hit your knees.”

The fact is psychiatric drug use has been an identifiable blip on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) radar for some time.  In a 2007 FAA report addressing 61 aircraft accidents between 1990-2001 and the use, by pilots, of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), or antidepressants, the federal agency reports, “All the 61 reports have now been completed and, accordingly, pilot’s psychological condition and/or SSRI use was reported to be the probable cause or a contributing factor in 31% (19/61) of the accidents.”

Psychiatric Drugs and Violence - Adverse ReactionsThe Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a federal agency charged with protecting consumer safety, placed its most serious “black box” warning on all antidepressants citing suicidality in addition to other side effects on the drug labels including hallucinations, mania and a host of other abnormal behaviors. Incredibly, despite being fully aware of this, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reversed its 70-year ban restricting pilots taking antidepressants and other mind-altering psychiatric drugs from flying.

In 2010, the FAA inexplicably changed its long-standing drug policy because according to then FAA Administrator, Randy Babbitt, “in the interest of safety we would much rather have them in a program that’s monitored and we know what they’re doing.” Ignore the FDA’s warnings and “monitor” pilots?

In other words, the FAA knew that there was a problem with pilots taking psychiatric drugs and rather than institute a ban on drugs documented to cause suicidal ideation, among a host of mania-inducing side effects, the FAA instituted a policy of allowing pilots to fly under the influence of these mind-altering drugs. Many would argue this is a policy equivalent to allowing alcohol consumption while flying, just so long as the pilots self-report their consumption, confusing pilot honesty with public safety.


According to German police investigators, numerous prescriptions for psychiatric drugs were found at Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz’s home, including antidepressants.

While there are numerous reports of Lubitz’s psychiatric and medication history, no official data has been released that provides information identifying Lubitz’s psychiatrist and the exact list of psychiatric drugs he had been prescribed. All important information, including which psychiatrist wrote the “sick notes,” that certainly would explain Lubitz’s suicidal/murderous actions.

Moreover, if a psychiatrist wrote a “sick note,” suggesting that Lubitz not fly due to some potentially irrational or psychotic behavior, was the treating psychiatrist obligated to warn the airline? Is it possible that any psychiatrist would “trust” someone mentally unfit to fly to self-report the disability?

The New York Times reported that antidepressants were found in Lubitz’s home, which are not the only psychiatric mind-altering drugs with violent and manic inducing side effects.  For example, numerous sources, including Reuters, Lubitz underwent psychiatric treatment in 2009 for 18 months for a “serious depressive episode” and according to a Le Parisian article, Lubitz received injections of the antipsychotic medication, olanzapine (Zyprexa).

If Lubitz was taking the antipsychotic Zyprexa, the following are frequent adverse reactions: depression, euphoria, delusions, manic reaction and schizophrenic reaction. Couple these adverse reactions with those of antidepressants and suddenly the FAA’s decision to allow psychiatric drug use among pilots seems anything but safe and certainly not in the flying public’s best interest.

Click on graph to view larger

Click on graph to view larger

Does the FAA have a choice about whether to revisit its pilot psychiatric drug policy? Can the FAA be in direct contradiction with the FDA about the possible deadly consequences associated with psychiatric drugs? Not if the public has any say in the flying experience.

Psychiatric drugs are not less dangerous or deadly simply by virtue of having been prescribed by a doctor. In fact, the makers of psychiatric drugs regularly warn “you should not drive, operate heavy machinery, or other dangerous activities….” Given the endless list of behavioral adverse reactions associated with psychiatric drugs, this seems like good advice, as anyone would agree that a commercial aircraft would fall under the “heavy machinery” category.

But, perhaps, British journalist, Piers Morgan writing for the Daily Mail, best explained why the FAA and other aviation regulatory agencies must ban the use of psychiatric drugs by pilots: “I don’t care if the co-pilot, 28-year old Andreas Lubitz, was mad, bad, or sad…. I want to know that the airlines know if either pilot has similar mental health issues to Andreas Lubitz, and whether he or she is on medication…. That’s not ‘insensitive,’ or ‘stigmatizing’ people…. It’s about protecting the lives of innocent people.”


CCHR is a non-profit, public benefit organization.

CCHR is a non-profit, public benefit organization.

Kelly Patricia O’Meara is an award-winning former investigative reporter for the Washington Times’ Insight Magazine, penning dozens of articles exposing the fraud of psychiatric diagnosis and the dangers of the psychiatric drugs—including her ground-breaking 1999 cover story, “Guns & Doses,” exposing the link between psychiatric drugs and acts of senseless violence. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed book, Psyched Out: How Psychiatry Sells Mental Illness and Pushes Pills that Kill. Prior to working as an investigative journalist, O’Meara spent sixteen years on Capitol Hill as a congressional staffer to four Members of Congress. She holds a B.S. in Political Science from the University of Maryland.