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Fit-for-Duty and Restricted Medications

Question: Am I required to report the use of any medication to the Regional Flight Surgeon in between the yearly ATC physical examination?

Answer: Yes.

Air traffic controllers must hold a valid and current medical clearance to work air traffic operational duties. Taking prescribed and over-the counter medication(s) can medically disqualify an employee from working ATC positions. Not reporting medication in between the yearly physical can nullify a medical clearance and render you disqualified to perform ATC duties. Failure to report medication to the FAA places you in a potential disciplinary action, which can include removal from federal service.

Even though controllers are asked the question “Do you currently use any medication?” on the Form 8500 while undergoing the yearly physical exam, all medication taken during the course of the year must be reported. You cannot wait until your next physical to report or disclose any mediation you had taken or are taking on a regular basis. If you do, you place yourself in jeopardy of violating following provisions:

1. Article 66 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement
2. FAA Order 7210.3 (2-8-1 – Medical)
3. FAA Order 3930.3A (ATC Medical Standard Order)
4. ER 4.1 (Standards of Conduct)

Article 66, Section 14 is the parties’ negotiated provision concerning medication that restricts employees from performing safety-related duties. The medications listed on the guide are not comprehensive or all-inclusive. Accordingly, even if the medication is not listed, you are still required to report the drug(s) to the FAA. NATCA advises that you contact the Regional Flight Surgeon (RFS) regarding the matter and when you need to report medication use. If at all possible, do not report to the facility management. If you must, just convey that you are taking medication that may be disqualifying and that you will contact the FAA’s RFS for further advice. Please seek assistance from your FacRep before initiating a call into the RFS or when contacting facility management.

Order 7210.3 restricts employees from working operational positions when using sedative type drugs; tranquilizers; any medications that have an effect on the central or automatic nervous system; and any other drugs likely to affect the alertness, judgment, vision, equilibrium, or state of consciousness. The Order clearly outlines all the possible restrictions and has “covered all bases” when it comes to prohibited medications. Again, contact the RFS to report all medications you are taking.

Order 3930.3A requires air traffic controllers to report to facility management and/or the Regional Flight Surgeon of any health problems and results of medical examination occurring between periodic exams. While the Order may not explicitly mention the reporting requirement of medication, since the prescription was obtained because of a medical exam or on the advice of a medical clinician to treat health related problems, you are bound by this Order to report the prescribed medication.

ER 4.1 (Section 15) makes a misconduct if an air traffic controller engages in an inappropriate use of legal substances, which includes prescription and over-the-counter medications. Under the agency’s Table of Penalties, discipline for forging, falsifying, misstating, or misrepresenting information on government records, documents, or claims for oneself is a range of five-day to removal for a first offense.

For these reasons, it cannot be understated the importance of reporting both prescription and non-prescription use. The key issue from a FAA’s safety perspective usually is not the medication itself, but the reason the medication is being used. Only medication that is currently being used is required to be reported. Although the FAA discourages the use of “nutritional supplements” obtained over-the-counter, there is no requirement to report their use. Nutritional supplements are not regulated by the FDA, nor restricted by the FAA. They include herbal preparations, performance enhancers, vitamins, minerals and many other unregulated substances.

For further information on the reporting requirement or if you wish to obtain an independent consultation concerning FAA’s medical qualification issues, NATCA members may contact the aviation medical professionals at AviationMedicine.com.

You may also contact your facility representative and/or your regional vice president for further guidance and assistance. When it comes to matters relating to this topic, please make sure you involve your FacRep and/or your RVP from the beginning to protect yourself and your rights. Because it concerns your medical clearance, which has a direct bearing to your ATC position, it is imperative that you do not attempt to resolve the matter on your own. Please seek assistance from your FacRep and/or your RVP.