The industry-wide substance abuse treatment program administered in conjunction with the FAA is specifically designed to let commercial pilots get help and safely return to the cockpit.
The Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS) is regarded among the most effective and successful occupational substance abuse treatment programs in existence. The fact that the program is specifically designed to to treat commercial pilots who are struggling with drug and alcohol dependency issues makes its enviable success rate all the more impressive.
The unique treatment regimen has a two-fold mission, both to help pilots struggling with addictions to get healthy and equally important, to ensure that the pilots in treatment don’t present a danger to the flying public. The HIMS’s more than 40-year mission of offering assistance to commercial pilots and keeping air travelers safe has been remarkably successful on both counts.
While the prospect of a pilot in recovery being at the controls doesn’t sound reassuring at first, the FAA and safety experts believe that the prospect of captains avoiding treatment out of fear of losing their livelihoods is much more concerning. Pilots often enter the treatment and monitoring program if colleagues or employers identify concerns, but some aviators also choose to self-report dependency issues.
“Alcoholism and other chemical dependencies are now recognized as part of a disease process,” HIMS informational literature explains. “This disease affects commercial pilots to the same degree that it affects the general population. The HIMS program was established to provide a system whereby afflicted individuals are treated and successfully returned to the cockpit under the FAA Special Issuance Regulations (14 CFR 67.401). The program is a cooperative one that includes the involvement of company representatives, pilot peer volunteers, healthcare professionals, and FAA medical specialists. While the program borrows heavily from treatment principles developed in both clinical and industrial settings, it has specific elements that reflect the unique nature of the safety-sensitive airline transportation system.”
Since its inception, the HIMS program has treated more than 4,500 pilots through one-of-a-kind monitoring and therapy protocols that involve coworkers, employers, labor union resources and even federal officials. The program’s blend of inpatient treatment and long-term peer support and monitoring has allowed HIMS to boast unheard of results. Nearly 80 percent of those who enter the program never relapse. Those pilots who do relapse, in most cases, do so only once before remaining clean and sober thereafter.
A recent profile of the HIMS program on CBS Sunday Morning offered some insight into why the unusual pilots only treatment is so much more effective than traditional rehab. Addiction specialist, Dr. Lynn Hankes, who has treated both pilots and countless members of the general public, says there is a simple reason that pilots are more likely to successfully beat an addiction in a clinical environment.
“If you threaten a pilot with taking away his wings, it’s like threatening a doctor with taking away his stethoscope.” Dr. Hankes told the popular morning show. “That’s a lot of leverage. If they want to get back to the cockpit or the operating room, they gotta jump through the hoops.”