03 April 2010


Posted by Jane Akre
for InjuryBoard.com

Antidepressants On The Job

A new government rule scheduled to take effect Monday will allow airline pilots to stay on their Prozac.

The rule is intended to have pilots disclose their antidepressant treatment rather than keep it a secret as long as their drug use doesn’t “manifest themselves” at 35,000 feet.

The Federal Aviation Administration had banned the use of antidepressants in pilots for fear they would cause drowsiness and have other side effects.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt told CNN, “We have people self medicating or not seeking treatment…We need to change the culture and remove the stigma associated with depression.”

There are no estimates on how many pilots may be on drug treatment for depression, but about 10 percent of the general population is under treatment for depression.

Changing the culture means that pilots taking SSRIs - Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa or Lexapro, or generic equivalents - can fly if they’ve been on the medication for a year and not suffered side effects. They can begin coming forward on Monday, the beginning of a six-month grace period.

Those pilots will be given a special medical certificate, reports the FAA in a press release.

For those pilots who have been on antidepressants to treat mild or moderate depression, but who have kept it a secret, the FAA will take no civil action against the pilots if they now disclose their drug use. The new rules are posted on the Federal Register.

Side Effects

The change in policy reflects a changing attitude toward SSRIs. While side effects can include seizures, eyesight problems, and suicidal thoughts, those side effects do not affect everyone.

Canadian pilots on antidepressants have been allowed to fly for some time. Labor unions and pilots had urged lifting the ban. The FAA’s new policy is consistent with recommendations from the Air Line Pilots Association, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and the Aerospace Medical Association.


Babbitt said the FAA began to deal with drug abuse and alcoholism in the cockpit with the establishment 40 years ago of its Human Intervention and Motivation Study (HIMS), a prototype alcohol and drug assistance program developed for commercial pilots.

Its premise is that alcoholism and chemical dependencies can be successfully treated medically. HIMS grew out of a grant in the 1970s that joined the Air Line Pilots Association with the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

It finds that peer identification and intervention are the key components to treatment.


Read more: http://www.injuryboard.com/national-news/is-your-pilot-on-prozac-.aspx?googleid=279968#ixzz0k3DsmypX


FAA - Press Release on new pilot policy
Federal Register - Posted FAA rules
Human Intervention and Motivation Study (pdf)


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