Video: Pilots on Prozac: FAA changes its policy

  1. Closed captioning of: Pilots on Prozac: FAA changes its policy

    >> studios tonight.

    >>> we have two stories on aviation making news tonight. the faa is lifting a long-time ban on pilots taking anti-depressants like zoloft and prozac. this could affect upwards of 10,000 pilots who will be able to take such medication with permission and clearance. there is also news tonight on airline

updated 4/2/2010 7:23:19 PM ET 2010-04-02T23:23:19

Some pilots taking medication for mild or moderate depression will be able to fly as early as next week under a new government rule aimed partly at getting those taking antidepressants to disclose the treatment.

The new policy, which takes effect Monday, reverses a ban on flying for pilots taking medications like Prozac. Federal Aviation Administration officials said the old rule was based on outdated versions of antidepressants that could cause drowsiness and other side effects.

The medications have been updated and do not pose that risk with everyone, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt told reporters Friday. But there was a side effect to the policy that has now been abrogated, Babbitt said. That rule had resulted in pilots taking those medications to keep their depression and treatment a secret, under the threat of losing their certification to fly.

"Our concern is that they haven't necessarily been candid," Babbitt said.

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"We need to change the culture and remove the stigma associated with depression," Babbitt said. "Pilots should be able to get the medical treatment they need so they can safely perform their duties."

Under the new policy, pilots who take one of four antidepressants — Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa or Lexapro or their generic equivalents — will be allowed to fly if they have been treated successfully by those medications for a year without side effects that could pose safety hazards in the cockpit. The antidepressants are classified as SSRIs, which help regulate mood.

In addition, the FAA will grant a sort of amnesty for pilots who have kept their treatment for depression a secret. The agency will not take civil enforcement action against pilots who, within six months, disclose their diagnoses of depression and treatment.

Slideshow: Cartoons: Danger in the air FAA officials said they changed the policy in part to encourage disclosure, but also because their own research by a team of psychiatrists during the past two years showed that the antidepressants have advanced to the point where side effects do not affect everyone and often subside in time. The risk of safety hazard, therefore, has subsided, the agency concluded.

Several labor unions representing aircraft owners, pilots and crews had urged the government to lift the ban. The Army, the Civil Aviation Authority of Australia and Transport Canada already allow some pilots to fly who are using antidepressant medications.

A team of psychiatrists and aviation medical examiners will help the agency monitor pilots under the new policy with a program established 40 years ago to assess and treat pilots suffering from alcohol and drug abuse, the FAA said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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