July 27, 2006
Right now, about 10 percent of the U.S. population is suffering depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 30 percent of adults will suffer depression during their lifetime. Yet with modern medications and treatments, people can manage the illness and function at a very high level.
AOPA is asking the FAA to join other leading world aviation organizations and recognize that fact. The association requested that pilots using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) antidepressant drugs be considered for special issuance third class medical certificates under carefully controlled circumstances.
AOPA also offered the FAA a protocol - developed by AOPA's medical staff and the physicians on the AOPA Board of Aviation Medical Advisors - to determine which pilots could safely fly while taking antidepressant medication.
"The civil aviation certifying authority in Australia (CASA) have allowed certification of flight crewmembers and air traffic controllers who are using SSRIs since 1989," AOPA Director of Regulatory and Certification Policy Luis Gutierrez wrote to the federal air surgeon, Dr. Frederick E. Tilton.
"The compiled [CASA] data yielded evidence suggesting that the use of antidepressants in carefully screened and well-monitored airmen can safely be undertaken without compromising aviation safety," Gutierrez said. "A smaller study conducted by Transport Canada among military aviators reached a similar conclusion."
The AOPA protocol would require a complete psychiatric consultation by a board-certified psychiatrist and that only one psychotropic medication be used. The pilot would have to demonstrate stability on the medication and no adverse side effects for six months before he could be considered for a special issuance certification. And the treating medical professional would have to submit regular update evaluations to the FAA.
AOPA argued that by granting the request, the FAA would encourage pilots on SSRIs to fully disclose their condition. The new protocol would give the FAA "a level of assurance that pilots that fly while taking SSRIs have had their condition evaluated and are determined not to pose a threat to aviation safety."
Because of the positive results in other countries, "AOPA believes that this is an opportune time for the FAA to change its policy regarding the use of certain SSRIs," Gutierrez said.
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