Pilots will soon be allowed to fly if they are taking antidepressant medications, in accordance with a new US government policy.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Friday it was lifting a ban on antidepressants for pilots with mild to moderate depression. To be cleared to fly, pilots who take the drugs must pass screening tests to show they have been successfully treated for at least a year.
Officials said they believed the ban had caused pilots to forego treatment or hide the fact they were taking medication to treat depression. The FAA is offering a six-month grace period for pilots to come forward without penalty if they are currently suffering from depression or are under treatment.
"We need to change the culture and remove the stigma associated with depression. Pilots should be able to get the medical treatment they need so they can safely perform their duties," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said.
Officials said they did not know how many pilots would be affected but noted that about 10% of the population suffers from depression.
Pilots will be monitored
Pilots who take antidepressants will be monitored for the length of their careers, the FAA said.
The policy applies to four antidepressants - Eli Lilly and Co's Prozac, Pfizer Inc's Zoloft, and Celexa and Lexapro from Forest Laboratories Inc.
Dr Fred Tilton, the FAA's federal air surgeon, said other medications may be allowed if pilots are being effectively treated with them.
Tilton said antidepressants were originally banned because older medications carried risks such as sedation that were considered unacceptable in the cockpit. Newer medications have side effects that can be manageable, he said. - (Reuters Health, April 2010)