Pubdate: Sat, 03 Aug 2002
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Andrew Buncombe


Dexedrine Is A 'Go-Pill' Given To Pilots When They Set Off On Missions.

Restoril is a 'no-go pill' to help them sleep.

The use of drugs by American pilots is an open secret in the defence world. 
By Andrew Buncombe AMERICAN PILOTS in Afghanistan, blamed for a series of 
"friendly fire" incidents and devastating erroneous attacks on innocent 
civilians, were routinely provided with amphetamines to tackle fatigue and 
help them fly longer hours.

Pilots were allowed to "self-regulate" their own doses and kept the drugs 
in their cockpits. The pilots were provided with the stimulant Dexedrine, 
generically known as dextroamphetamine and referred to as a "go-pill" by 
the airmen, when they set off on missions.

When they returned, doctors gave them sedatives or "no-go pills" to help 
them sleep.

Pilots who refused to take the drugs could be banned from taking part in a 

The use of the drugs is outlined in a 58-page document seen by The 
Independent entitled Performance Maintenance During Continuous Flight 
Operations, produced by the Naval medical research laboratory in Pensacola, 
Florida. It says: "Combat naps, proper nutrition and caffeine are currently 
approved and accepted ways ... to prevent and manage fatigue.

However, in sustained and continuous operations these methods may be 
insufficient ..."

A statement issued yesterday by the US Air Force Surgeon General's Office 
confirmed the use of amphetamines by pilots.

It said: "During contingency and combat operations, aviators are often 
required to perform their duties for extended periods without rest. While 
we have many planning and training techniques to extend our operations, 
prescribed drugs are sometimes made available to counter the effects of 
fatigue during these operations." The use of stimulants by American combat 
pilots appears to be an open secret within the defence world, although it 
is believed this is the first time the Pentagon has confirmed their use was 
officially condoned.

The revelation has fuelled speculation that the use of amphetamines may 
have been a factor in a series of devastating errors by pilots that led to 
attacks on Afghan civilians as well as so-called friendly-fire incidents. 
In the worst friendly-fire incident of the campaign, four Canadian soldiers 
of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry were killed and eight 
injured in April when an American pilot dropped a 500lb laser-guided bomb 
on their position. The F-16 pilot, Illinois Air National Guard Major Harry 
Schmidt, had flown three hours from Kuwait to the combat zone and faced a 
three-hour flight back afterwards. F-16 missions from Kuwait routinely took 
up to nine hours. In addition, few of the pilots based in Kuwait - where 
they were originally deployed to patrol the no-fly zone over southern Iraq 
- - received the recommended 12 hours rest between missions as they were on 
double duty. John Pike, director of, a defence 
think-tank, said: "Better bombing through chemistry.

I think enquiring whether amphetamine use had a role in the bombing errors 
is an obvious question to ask. I am surprised that the question has not 
been asked before. "When you look at the original story of the Canadian 
friendly-fire incident it seems that the pilot was being inexplicably 
aggressive. It goes beyond fatigue or lack of experience or being a cowboy 
or trigger happy or any of the standard prosaic explanations. The simplest 
explanation is that the guy had eaten too much speed and was paranoid."

Two unpublished reports into the friendly-fire incident reportedly 
concluded that Mr Schmidt made his error because he failed to properly 
assess the supposed risk before striking. Mr Schmidt, a former Navy pilot 
and instructor at its elite "Top Gun" training school, said he saw muzzle 
flashes on the ground and believed he was acting in self-defence. Moments 
later he was informed there were "friendlies in the area". It later emerged 
the Canadians were taking part in live-firing exercises which America was 
aware of. Mr Schmidt's lawyer, Charles Gittins, was unavailable to comment 
yesterday on whether his client had been taking amphetamines. However, he 
told the Toronto Star, which revealed the use of amphetamines by pilots: "I 
don't know. I never asked my pilot if he was medicated.

But it's quite common." The Performance Maintenance manual reveals just how 
common the use of amphetamines by pilots is. A survey of pilots who took 
part in the 1991 Desert Storm operation suggests 60 per cent of them took 
Dexedrine. In units most heavily involved in combat missions, the rate was 
as high as 96 per cent. During Desert Storm, the standard dosage of 
Dexedrine was 5mg. In Afghanistan it was 10mg. The manual itself warns of 
the potential dangers of amphetamine use, particularly from repetitive dosage.

It says: "The risk of drug accumulation from repetitive dosage warrants 
serious consideration."

Despite this it appears that pilots are under a considerable degree of 
pressure to take the drugs.

A consent form that all pilots are required to sign says use of the drug is 

But it adds: "Should I choose not to take it under circumstances where its 
use appears indicated ... my commander ... may determine whether or not I 
should be considered unfit to fly a given mission." Last month scores of 
Afghan civilians were killed in the village of Karakak, 100 miles north of 
Kandahar, after being bombed by American forces which may have mistook 
wedding celebrations as hostile fire.
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