Germanwings Pilot Reportedly Had Antidepressants — Many Banned By US FAA

Rob Wipond
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Germany’s Die Welt has reported that the German pilot who apparently deliberately crashed a commercial passenger plane had antidepressant drugs in his home, according to CNN. The US Federal Aviation Administration has banned US pilots from taking many SSRI antidepressants.

Die Welt, a German newspaper, cited an unidentified senior investigator who said [co-pilot Andreas] Lubitz suffered from a severe ‘psychosomatic illness’ and German police seized prescription drugs that treat the condition,” stated CNN. “Lubitz suffered from a ‘severe subjective burnout syndrome’ and from severe depression, the source told Die Welt. The New York Times also reported that antidepressants were found during the search of his apartment. CNN has not been able to confirm the reports.”

The articles also mentioned that Lubitz apparently had been recently having unusual vision problems, which are a recognized potential side effect of antidepressants.

A US Federal Aviation Administration Accepted Medications list provided by the company Pilot Medical Solutions states that, “Single-use Anti-Depressants such as: Celexa (Citalopram Hydrobromide), Lexapro (Escitalopram Oxalate), Prozac (Fluoxetine Hydrochloride) or Zoloft (Sertraline Hydrochloride) are approved by the FAA on a case by case basis only. Approval is very difficult, and does not permit applicants to be approved by an AME or even the FAA in Oklahoma City. All other psychiatric medications, including other SSRI’s such as Luvox (Fluvoxamine), Paxil (Paroxetine), Viibryd (Vilazodone), are not acceptable to the FAA.”

The FAA’s website confirms that, “The FAA has determined that airmen requesting first, second, or third class medical certificates while being treated with one of four specific selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be considered. The Authorization decision is made on a case by case basis.”

According to a 2011 presentation on the International Civil Aviation Organization website, the Convention on International Civil Aviation has developed a similar recommendation that pilots taking antidepressants should be deemed “unfit” to fly, except in specially evaluated cases.

In a 2010 article in the Huffington Post, MIA Blogger Peter Breggin lamented that the FAA had recently lifted its absolute ban on antidepressants and was instead providing a “Medication Guide to patients and their families that warns about dangerous drug-induced reactions including suicide, violence and a variety of unexpected negative behaviors.” Breggin warned that, “The FAA should reverse its ruling before it’s too late and hundreds of lives are lost when a pilot becomes impulsive, suicidal or violent–or just loses his sharpness–under the influence of antidepressant medication.”

Reports: Antidepressants found at home of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz (CNN, March 29, 2015)

Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners: Decision Considerations – Aerospace Medical Dispositions Item 47. Psychiatric Conditions – Use of Antidepressant Medications (FAA website)

FAA Accepted Medications (Pilot Medical Solutions, Inc website, Updated 2/9/15)

Recent changes to Annex 1 Medical Standards and Recommended Practices (International Civil Aviation Organization presentation)

Pilots Taking Antidepressants? The FAA Is Risking Our Lives (Huffington Post, May 5, 2010)

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Rob Wipond
Rob Wipond is a Victoria, British Columbia-based freelance journalist who has been writing on mental health issues for fifteen years. His research has particularly focused on the interfaces between psychiatry, the justice system, and civil rights. His articles have been nominated for three Canadian National Magazine Awards, six Western Magazine Awards, and four Jack Webster Awards for journalism. He can be contacted through his website.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Well, finally at least one mainstream media outlet is getting the facts approximately right. For coverage that portrays people like me (and probably you) as demented killers, check out almost any story on the Huffington Post. On the issue of vision problems, their version is that they were caused by the co-pilot’s “mental illness.” Think about what that angle conveys about what we survivors are: warped monsters and freaks. For other equally bigoted stories on psychiatry, check out their recent review of Jeffrey Lieberman’s book “Shrinks,” written by someone who claims to be very happy with his lifetime drugging with ADHD amphetamines, who is most likely just a PR person for the drug companies. At about the same time, there is an article on “teenage depression,” written by someone who purports to be a 16-year-old girl. Amusingly, if that’s the word, this supposed teenager slings around the obscure language of psych drug propaganda like an experienced public relations shill. Maybe she is so brilliant that she is the youngest person ever hired for such a job.

    I am not holding my breath waiting for some mainstream media outlet to point out that if psychiatry is so helpful, how is it they didn’t help this man? I am sure we will soon see stories saying the usual “if only he could have received psychiatric help sooner.”

    I don’t know what we can do about this yet, but I think it is important for our movement to take notice of which major media outlets promote psychiatry and demonize people with psych labels. For this, I nominate Huffington Post and NPR (National Pharmaceutical Radio) for some kind of award.

    On the other hand, the Guardian newspaper (out of the UK) and, recently, the New York Times, have written critically about psychiatry. In fact, one story in the Times was responded to angrily by Dr. Lieberman in some medical journal while practically foaming at the mouth. Recent stories in the Times about psychiatry have often been so close to our perspective that they would not at all be out of place in Mad In America. I highly recommend one called “Medicating Women’s Emotions” by a feminist psychiatrist. She said that women who feel unhappy and anxious shouldn’t drug away their feelings, but go out into the world and do something about what is causing their unhappiness. Great article.

  2. I totally called this one as soon as I heard the details. This has all the earmarks of an SSRI suicide/murder case – distressed and isolated individual takes new or increased prescription, inhibitions and empathy are reduced or eliminated and he acts out a bizarre fantasy that he would normally never have actually acted on because he’d have felt restrained by not wanting to hurt so many innocent people. I am so glad to have someone actually cover the real story!

    —- Steve

  3. Here is the dirty little secret of the FAA medical certificate; It can only be issued by a FAA approved doctor. The FAA doctor is NOT your primary care doctor, he/she only knows what you tell them. They don’t request medical records from your primary care doctor. There is no way short of a drug screening (which isn’t done) for the FAA doctors to know what you are taking.

    it is also up to the pilot to voluntarily turn in his medical certificate if he/she starts taking a prohibited medication.

    • Well don’t jump to conclusions yet. He could have been suicidal before, hence the prescibed antidepressants. It is important to know what actually was going on before jumping to conclusions. Sure SSRIs can increase suicidal thinking but it is not definite if that was a true cause, clearly he was not stable to begin with.

      • To debate his state of mind can go on forever, we can’t ask him anymore, we can only draw conclusions from diagnoses and journals. But the question to wether he had SSRI or other Chemicals in his blood, can be answered. And I Think they have recovered what they Believe is his body.

      • It is also easy to “blame the disease” when the drug was what pushed the person over the edge. It’s not the fact that he was suicidal that makes me suspect antidepressants, it’s the bizarreness of the way he went about it. Depressed people in general aren’t into hurting bunches of other people – they just want to end their own lives. This was a very dramatic and destructive way to go out, and it is consistent with other stories of people who were adversely affected by antidepressants.

        Most suicidally depressed people don’t commit mass murder.

        —- Steve

  4. “Single-use Anti-Depressants such as: Celexa (Citalopram Hydrobromide), Lexapro (Escitalopram Oxalate), Prozac (Fluoxetine Hydrochloride) or Zoloft (Sertraline Hydrochloride) are approved by the FAA….All other psychiatric medications, including other SSRI’s such as Luvox (Fluvoxamine), Paxil (Paroxetine), Viibryd (Vilazodone), are not acceptable to the FAA.”

    I wonder what the rationale behind this is? Six-of-one, half-of-a-dozen of another as far as I’m concerned.