WASHINGTON, DC—Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) was joined by Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Congressman David Trone (D-MD) in issuing joint letters urging airlines to carry opioid overdose medication, such as naloxone, to make air travel safer ahead of what is projected to be a busy holiday travel season. The request to take this proactive public safety measure
s comes after a fatal overdose on board an airline over the summer. Four million Americans are expected to fly over the Thanksgiving holiday this year.
“Naloxone is a critical, life-saving drug. Flight crews should be equipped to handle any medical emergency,” said Fitzpatrick. “Carrying naloxone is an easy way for airlines to ensure the safety of their passengers. I’m glad to see that several airlines have begun carrying naloxone on commercial flights, and I hope to see others soon follow.”
To date, some air carriers, including American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and Alaska Airlines, have voluntarily agreed to stock naloxone on their planes. The letters, which were sent to the CEOs of Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and Allegiant Air, encourage them to protect their passengers by taking similar steps.
“The intent of this request is to save lives,” said Langevin. “Travel this holiday season is expected to hit historic highs, and the safety of airline passengers should be our top priority. A person’s chance of survival should not depend on the airline they choose. I strongly urge air carriers that are not carrying naloxone to do so as soon as possible.”
“Naloxone has saved thousands of lives by reversing the effects of an overdose, and we should make sure this life-saving drug is available in as many places as we possibly can,” said Trone, founder of the Freshmen Working Group on Addiction. “This holiday travel season and always, airlines should ensure that all passengers make it safely to their destinations by carrying naloxone to prevent any more deaths from this horrible epidemic.”
The letters issued to airlines this week follow correspondence with officials from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in August that was led by the congressmen and that requested regulations requiring the inclusion of naloxone in emergency medical kits of all certified passenger aircraft. FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, in his response to the letter, acknowledged “the need to update emergency medical kits to include opioid antagonists.” He also stated that as the FAA continues to pursue regulatory options, the agency “will seek to encourage the expeditious and voluntary inclusion of opioid antagonists in the [medical] kits.”
In July, news media reported that a passenger lost their life to an overdose on a flight from Boston to Los Angeles. Flight attendants responded to the medical emergency but did not have immediate access to medicine that could rapidly reverse the overdose. The August letter and the letter sent today are backed by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA).
"We urge all airlines to carry naloxone onboard as soon as possible. Responding to opioid overdoses with life-saving medication like naloxone is essential and should be included in Emergency Medical Kits on board,” said Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, representing 50,000 Flight Attendants at 20 airlines. “AFA has been raising this as a critical issue to the FAA. Passenger medical emergencies have and will continue to include opioid overdoses. Aviation's First Responders need to have the tools to save lives."
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 required the FAA to evaluate modifications to the equipment required as part of emergency medical kits. As part of the review, the FAA asked the Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA) to study current requirements. AsMA recommended that medical kits be updated to include opioid overdose reversal drugs, and the FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine has concurred with that finding.
Over the last 20 years, the opioid overdose epidemic has claimed the lives of over 400,000 Americans, including an estimated 70,000 in 2017.