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FAA will allow pilots to take antidepressants on the job again

By LAURIE KELLMAN
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Some pilots taking medication for mild or
moderate depression will be able to fly as soon 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Administration officials said the old rule was based on outdated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.
"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
successfully treated by those medications for a year without side
effects that could pose a safety hazard 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.
FAA officials said they changed the policy in part to encourage
disclosure, but also because their own research by a team of
psychiatrists over the past two years showed that the
antidepressants have advanced to the point where side effects don't
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 under a program
established 40 years ago to assess and treat pilots suffering from
alcohol and drug abuse issues, the FAA said.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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