The Impact of HIMS Drug and Alcohol Program on Aviation Safety

HIMS FAA Medical Examiner

Human Intervention and Motivation Study, also known as HIMS, is a program that provides current and potential pilots recovering from alcohol and/or drugs with a path to a pilot medical certificate. The program has been shown to enhance flight safety, and many pilots feel the program has saved their lives. Current or future pilots can enter the program voluntarily, though some are mandated to do so by the FAA typically as a result of a DUI. HIMS requires permanent abstinence from mood- and mind-altering substances.

Current or future pilots should start the process by consulting with a HIMS Aviation Medical Examiner. Such examiners have received training in the HIMS program and are delegated by the FAA to partner with current or future pilots in the program. For individuals with a remote history of drug and alcohol use and DUI, the FAA may require only parts of the full HIMS program, so it is important to consult with a HIMS FAA Medical Examiner at the start of the process. Starting the process without an experienced, knowledgeable FAA HIMS doctor will create additional delays and costs.

The components of the HIMS program are inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment, aftercare, attendance at peer addiction support group, HIMS AME visits, HIMS Psychiatrist visits, HIMS Neuropsychologist assessments and visits, chief and peer pilot assessments (for commercial pilots), and random and unannounced drug testing.  The HIMS AME acts as the guide and monitor throughout the process, so finding a HIMS FAA Medical Examiner Florida that is an advocate for you and is easily accessible to you will help make the partnership successful. An effective HIMS AME will spend your initial meeting learning about you and discussing the commitment, time, and expense you can expect from the program.

In addition to the Drug and Alcohol HIMS program, the FAA also allows current or potential pilots who take certain antidepressants to be considered for a pilot medical certificate using the HIMS SSRI program. This program is for individuals taking one of the following medications for depression or related mental health conditions:

Fluoxetine (Prozac)

Sertraline (Zoloft)

Citalopram (Celexa)

Escitalopram (Lexapro)

Bupropion (Wellbutrin) Extended Release (XL) or Sustained Release (SR)

This program requires being stable on only one of these medications for at least six months and includes HIMS AME visits, HIMS Psychiatrist visits, and HIMS Neuropsychologist assessments and visits. Treatment and prescription records are required for review by the HIMS FAA Medical Examiner and submission to the FAA. Again, having a HIMS AME who will listen, advocate for you, and partner with you is critical to being successful.

One of the most common issues I see applicants face is not knowing about these programs and expecting to receive a medical certificate at a regular AME visit despite a history of DUI or depression. Some students come for their medical certificate right before they are ready to solo, but going through the HIMS program takes time. The best approach is to have a consult with an experienced HIMS AME before even starting training. This will prevent training interruptions and the FAA HIMS doctor will guide timing.

A similar condition that is not formally in the HIMS program but has some similarities is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADHD. Treatment for this has become increasingly common in recent decades, and the FAA recently has developed some detailed protocols for potential pilots with this history. Candidates who are symptom-free and off medication for at least four years can use the “fast track” developed for this, but the HIMS AME will still need to review detailed records. Therefore, it is critical to start with a consultation with a HIMS AME if you have this history.  Candidates who are off of medication for at least 90 days and doing well can use the “standard” track which also requires a review of detailed records along with Neuropsychologist evaluation and testing. This track also takes some time, and the HIMS FAA Medical Examiner can discuss what to expect and when.

One challenge for candidates with these conditions is the cost. For individuals already in the aviation industry, a non-profit offers grants to cover the cost of these programs. A knowledgeable HIMS AME can connect you to a program like this while ensuring you move through the program as cost-effectively as possible.

Drug and alcohol use, depression, and ADHD in pilots can negatively impact aviation safety. Fortunately, the FAA provides a path for pilots with these issues to get their medical certificates and fly safely. Current and future pilots with these conditions must see a HIMS Aviation Medical Examiner who can be a partner and advocate for them in working toward a medical certificate. Start this partnership as early as possible in the flying journey to prevent avoidable time and expense.

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