Two people in safety-sensitive aviation roles have recently tested positive to codeine.
With the cold and flu season upon us, this is a timely reminder that codeine is only available with a doctor’s prescription and is a testable drug under Part 99 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998.
The two people are temporarily stood down from their duties until they have been cleared by a medical review officer. They also face a possible fine of $1110 or a maximum penalty of up to $11,100 if the matter is referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
If you’re a pilot, engineer, air traffic controller or in any other safety-sensitive aviation position, you should not take products containing codeine without consulting a doctor. This includes products which you might have bought without a prescription before updated rules took effect in 2018.
CASA routinely screens for opiates, including codeine, as part of its alcohol and drug testing program. Codeine is converted into morphine by the body and can impair performance in a safety sensitive environment.
The 2018 rules update affected products which contain up to 30 mg of codeine and had previously been available over the counter in pharmacies. They include brands such as Panadeine, Panadeine Extra, Nurofen Plus, Mersyndol, Aspalgin and Disprin Forte.
Pain relief medicines containing only paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin, such as Panadol, Nurofen and Disprin, are not affected by the change.
Codeine is very common and the test is very sensitive to minute doses.
A positive test result would not indicate impairment if we are looking at one or two doses of 15mg over a day.
In my view, it may not be helpful to emphasize high penalties.