FAA OKs four antidepressants for pilot use

Used to be that piloting an aircraft and taking antidepressants didn't mix. Or so thought the Federal Aviation Administration, which grounded pilots with depression--even those being treated with drugs because of worries about side effects.

But pilots now being treated for depression can fly. The FAA has lifted the ban on flying with depression and the proscription against flying while being treated, provided pilots follow some new rules. The agency says regulators are now better educated--both about mental illness and about its treatment. "We have a better understanding of the drugs," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt tells Bloomberg, adding, "We really need to remove the stigma, if you will, of being treated for an illness."

Under the new policy, pilots with depression can ask the agency for permission to be treated with four drugs: Eli Lilly's Prozac, Pfizer's Zoloft, and Forest Labs' Celexa and Lexapro. 

It's just the latest step toward widespread public acceptance of depression as a treatable illness and antidepressants as drugs that aren't shameful. Advocates for the mentally ill, such as patient groups and lobbying organizations, have helped. But so have DTC advertisements that first made Eli Lilly's Prozac a household word. Other antidepressant ads followed, as did drug sales--to the point where antidepressants are now the second largest drug class in the U.S.

The FAA's new policy is expected to affect as many as 10,000 pilots, both those who've been barred from flying because they're depressed and those who were taking meds in violation of the rules. And it comes after an indepth study of the medications now deemed to be safe. "The FAA knows this is going to be a controversial ruling because of the stigma attached to depression," Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, tells the news service. "I'm sure they doubly did their homework."

- read the Bloomberg piece