Does Xanax or Zoloft Disqualify a Pilot?

A FLYING reader who hasn't flown in a while asks if they can get their flying privileges back if they take these medications.

I have my private certificate, but it’s been many years since I was a PIC. I’m 74, healthy and have passed the FAA medical exam within the last year. My primary doctor has prescribed Zoloft and Xanax, for sleep only, not for depression or any other condition. What are my options?

A: Let’s remember that FAR 61.53 prohibits a pilot from acting as PIC during a known medical deficiency and FAR 91.17 prohibits the use of “any drug that affects the person’s faculties in any way contrary to safety.” 

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has a list of these medications that are not allowed for pilots who hold FAA-issued medical certificates, because the FAA has determined that they have the potential to interfere with the safe operation of an aircraft. Xanax is one of these medications. Zoloft falls under the category of an “off label application,” which means that although it was developed as an antidepressant, it can be used to treat other conditions, and as such, it is one of four SSRIs that may be considered for special issuance authorization. 

You may want to have a discussion with your physician to see if there are alternatives to the use of Zoloft and Xanax. Once you are off the medications, there is the possibility that you could be granted a special issuance and return as PIC. There is also the possibility of returning to flying with the help of an instructor who will legally be the PIC on the flight, but you will be the one manipulating the controls. There are many pilots who do this because they love flying too much to quit, but don’t want to break the rules.

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