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FBI: Drug used to calm baby on flight

A former Northwest Airlines attendant is accused of spiking the girl's juice with Xanax to keep her from crying.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 15, 2003

DETROIT -- The apple juice was bitter and foamy. Blue and white specks floated in it.

So Beate Turner of Michigan took the juice from her toddler, poured it into another container and carried it off the jet after Northwest Airlines Flight 47 landed at Detroit Metro Airport.

Now, a former Northwest Airlines attendant has been charged with assault, accused of spiking the toddler's drink with the prescription drug Xanax to stop her from crying on the long international flight from Amsterdam in August. Daniel Reed Cunningham, 33, also is charged with distributing a controlled substance.

The 19-month-old girl drank some of the juice but suffered no serious injury, officials said.

Xanax is prescribed for panic attacks and anxiety. Its side effects include lightheadedness, fatigue and drowsiness. The Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved it for children.

The incident came to light after Turner sipped the apple juice that Cunningham had given her daughter during the Aug. 25 flight, which according to the airline's Web site normally takes nine hours.

Turner told the FBI that her daughter began squirming and crying on the flight. Cunningham appeared to become upset and told Turner: "This is starting to be a problem," according to an FBI affidavit.

Cunningham offered three times to give the girl apple juice before Turner accepted, the affidavit says. When Cunningham placed the cup on a tray, the girl immediately grabbed it and took several sips.

Turner said she drank some as well because she was concerned the filled cup would spill. After noticing the taste and appearance, she decided to have the liquid tested.

Ten days after the flight, she took the juice to University Laboratories in Novi, Mich., which confirmed the presence of the prescription medication, the FBI said.

Cunningham has denied drugging the child in statements to the FBI. He is expected to appear in court for arraignment next week.

Cunningham did not return a telephone message left Friday at a listing for him, and his attorney, Neil Fink, declined to comment.

Northwest Airlines spokeswoman Mary Stanik said Cunningham was hired in 1998 and worked for the airline until Dec. 30. She said she could not discuss his case.

"Our standard procedures for flight attendants do not include prescribing medication unless it is through the assistance of a physician with our in-flight emergency services," she said.

Cunningham also has been charged with importing more than 100 tablets of a non-narcotic controlled substance into the United States on a different flight in October. The tablets included Xanax and Valium.

Pat Friend, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said: "You have to look at (his background) and say this is one of the bad apples. Unfortunately, it will reflect on the profession. Flight attendants all over the country will have to put up with this."

Flight attendants sometimes joke about slipping scotch into a baby bottle but wouldn't think of doing such a thing, said Friend, whose union does not represent Northwest Airlines flight attendants. Still, calming crying children in the cabin isn't easy.

Often, babies and toddlers suffer from painful pressure in their inner ears. Flight attendants typically suggest parents give them a bottle to drink because the jaw movement helps equalize ear pressure. Other times, flight attendants offer to bring food or walk babies up and down the aisles, Friend said.

"The reality is," she said, "there are a number of reasons why a child cries on an airplane."

-- Times staff writer Steve Huettel contributed to this report, which also includes information from the Detroit Free Press and Associated Press.

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