A Spirit Airlines pilot and wife died of overdoses of cocaine and carfentanil, a drug so powerful its primary use is to tranquilize rhinos and elephants, the Montgomery County Coroner’s office confirmed Tuesday.
>> EARLIER: Couple’s death may be fentanyl related
Brian Halye, 36, and Courtney Halye, 34, were found dead in their Centerville home March 16 by their four children who reported the deaths to police.
The toxicology results confirm what the coroner’s office had previously hinted at: the commercial passenger airline pilot died of an accidental drug overdose.
The deaths came a week after Brian Halye’s last flight, prompting criticism of the random system used to test pilots.
Local health officials say the results are consistent with an increasing pattern of people using extremely powerful drugs, and combining potent opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil with cocaine and other drugs.
Cocaine, opioids deadly mix
The autopsy does not make clear if the Halyes knew the cocaine they were taking contained carfentanil — a synthetic opioid 100 times stronger than fentanyl and 1,000 times more powerful than morphine.
It does indicate, however, that both Halyes took the drug by injection. Courtney Halye had needle puncture marks on her right thigh and left wrist, the report shows, while Brian Halye had a single needle puncture mark on his right arm.
Intentionally injecting cocaine into the body with morphine, heroin or other drugs is known as a “speedball.”
The powerful concoction has killed celebrities, including former Saturday Night Live star John Belushi more than three decades ago.
Earlier this month, Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco warned Cincinnati-area cocaine users that their stashes could be cut with fentanyl or heroin without their knowledge, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson last week told a U.S. Senate subcommittee that he believed drug dealers may be mixing cocaine and fentanyl as a way to increase opioid addiction in the black community, according to The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.
A small amount of carfentanil no larger than a grain of salt can kill. In July, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine warned police agencies across the state against handling or field testing street drugs that could contain dangerous levels of fentanyl or carfentanil.
In September, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a nationwide warning about the health and safety risks of carfentanil that can also resemble powdered cocaine.
“Just handling it can result in death,” Ken Betz, director of the Montgomery County Coroner’s office, said at the time of the DEA’s warning.
Airline drug tests questioned
A Dayton Daily News examination after Halye’s death revealed airline pilots can go years without a drug test.
The toxicology and autopsy reports do not indicate if Halye had ever used drugs before flying an airplane, but it’s also unknown when Halye was last subjected to a drug test.
“The random nature of testing means that people can in fact get away with things like this,” said Ashley Nunes, a regulatory analyst with the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics. “It’s certainly concerning to me someone could take cocaine, or have the lack of common sense to take cocaine and fly an airplane.”
“I suspect he is not the first and will not be the last,” Nunes said.
Spirit Airlines in March declined to answer the Daily News’ questions about Halye’s last flights, upcoming routes and the dates and results of any drug screenings.
Airlines officials in March said the pilot, who flew for the airline for nine years, captained his last Spirit Airlines flight six days before the overdose.
Cocaine has been a factor in fatal passenger aviation accidents, even when consumed hours before takeoff.
In January 1988, Continental Air Express 2286 crashed in Colorado, killing the captain and eight others on board. The NTSB later determined the captain’s use of cocaine the night before contributed to the accident, which served to heighten calls for more drug testing.