U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price may explore adding fentanyl to federal drug testing guidelines following the suspected overdose death of a Spirit Airlines pilot, he said Wednesday.
The change would add fentanyl — heroin’s much stronger cousin — to the drug screen for federal personnel and thousands of transportation industry employees, including pilots and truck drivers.
Price said he could ask President Trump’s newly-established commission on drug addiction to look into adding the drug to the federal regimen.
“I’d be happy to look at that,” Price told the Dayton Daily News while visiting a southwest Ohio pharmaceutical factory where the opioid treatment drug Vivitrol is produced.
“It’s one of the things we can raise before the commission,” Price said. He additionally said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could be involved, stressing the need for “real-time” data on opioid abuse.
The secretary’s trip to Wilmington brought him to the former hometown of 36-year-old Spirit Airlines Captain Brian Halye, whose school-age children found him and his wife dead March 16 in their Centerville home.
Montgomery County Coroner’s Office Director Ken Betz said the deaths appear consistent with fentanyl overdoses.
A Dayton Daily News examination after Halye’s death revealed airline pilots and other safety-sensitive employees can go years without facing a random drug or alcohol test.
Spirit Airlines has not said whether Halye was tested for drugs or alcohol during his near decade of employment at the ultra-low fare carrier, though the company maintains it follows the law.
The newspaper additionally found that while deaths involving fentanyl have soared across the nation in recent years, the drug is not included in the government’s mandated drug screen of thousands of safety-sensitive employees in aviation, pipelines, railroads, commercial trucking and maritime shipping.
Mary Pat McKay, the National Transportation Safety Board chief medical officer, told the Daily News the safety board would likely support adding fentanyl to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s drug screens if the Health and Human Services Department can verify the testing protocol for labs.
Currently, federal drug screens test for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, phencyclidine (PCP), and amphetamines.
The Transportation Department has until Oct. 1 to comply with a Health and Human Services Department change to the federal drug testing regimen adding four commonly prescribed and often abused synthetic opioids.
The new guidelines will add hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone to the screens. Because the drugs can be legally prescribed, the regulations will allow employees to demonstrate proper use of the drugs.
The change is supported by the airlines and hailed by the NTSB and other safety groups as an advance in the opioid fight, but is opposed by the nation’s largest pilots union, the Air Line Pilots Association.
ORIGINAL REPORT: Children find Spirit Airlines pilot, wife dead in apparent overdose