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Ban on Pilots Taking Antidepressants Is Lifted

The government is scrapping a 70-year-old ban that barred pilots from flying while on antidepressants. The reasons cited for the change in policy: Improvements in the drugs and putting an end to pilots flying but not admitting they were taking the medications.

“Our concern is that they haven’t necessarily been candid,” Federal Aviation Administrator Randy Babbitt told reporters in a conference call Friday. The lifting of the ban offers some amnesty for pilots who lied about their diagnosis and treatment on medical certification forms, so the government will gain insight into how man aviators suffer from depression. According to the Associated Press, a study last year by Columbia University found that as many as 10 percent of Americans were taking antidepressants. That percentage is likely the same for pilots, FAA officials suspect.

Under the old ban, pilots suffered from depression could either not take any medication for treatment, or self-medicate and lie about it on a required medical certification form, which is a federal crime. .

“We need to change the culture and remove the stigma associated with depression,” Babbitt said told reporters. Now pilots who take Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa or Lexapro — or their generic versions – can fly if they have been successfully treated by those medications for a year without side effects that could pose a safety hazard. Those antidepressants are called SSRIs and regulate moods.

The ban has been in place so long because earlier versions of antidepressants caused side effects like drowsiness and seizures. But medical experts have told the FAA that based on two years of research, the newer versions don’t cause side effects in everyone. And if they do, those effects subside in time. In addition, the FAA won’t take civil enforcement action against pilots who, within six months, disclose their diagnoses of depression and treatment.

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