Nasal spray could help drive down suicide rates among U.S. veterans
“Here’s a window into a tragedy within the American military,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff wrote in an April column. “For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands.”
The alarming epidemic of suicide amongst our veterans, often linked to traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, and all the adverse emotional and physical complications that accompany them, have compelled military and civilian researchers to find better ways of diagnosing and treating brain injuries, which can lead to myriad cognitive, motor, and emotional problems. Among those problems, depression and suicide loom large.
One of the latest and more promising treatments for traumatic brain injury (TBI) being eyed by the U.S. military is the use of nasal spray to deliver thyrotropin-releasing hormones (TRH), a naturally occurring antidepressive neurochemical that doctors traditionally have had a hard time getting past the brain’s protective “blood-brain barrier.” But while injections and pills have failed to effectively deliver TRH to the brain, fresh hope lies in the nasal spray being developed by a University of Indiana medical professor.
According to CNN, the U.S. Army has approved a three-year grant to Dr. Michael Kubek, an associate professor of anatomy and cell biology and of neurobiology at Indiana University of Medicine, to develop a nasal spray that could get TRH past the brain’s protective barrier, which serves to keep hormones and neurotoxins harmful to the brain at bay. Dr. Kubek helped discover TRH and its anti-depression and anti-suicidal effects on the brain.
Although not a cure for TBI, TRH will likely help mitigate some of the most troublesome symptoms TBI victims often suffer: chronic depression and suicidal thoughts.
Help for TBI, considered the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan due to the number of blast-related injuries, can’t come fast enough for the thousands of U.S. veterans returning home from combat. More than 6,500 veterans kill themselves every year in the U.S., many of them suffering from depression linked to TBI. That’s about one veteran suicide every 80 minutes, compared to one U.S. soldier death every 36 hours in the Middle East.
Sadly, these numbers continue to rise. The Army confirmed 38 cases of suicide and suspected suicide among both active and non-active service members in July 2012 – the highest ever recorded. Previously, the highest suicide rate for soldiers was 33 in June 2010 and July 2011.
“Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army. And it’s an enemy that’s killing not just Soldiers, but tens of thousands of Americans every year,” Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, vice chief of staff of the Army, wrote in a statement on the release of July’s suicide statistics.
“These deaths are troubling and tragic,” Dr. Kubek said in a statement. “Today’s commonly used anti-depressants can take weeks to have an effect and carry a black box warning label for suicidal ideation in young adults. That is why we hope to develop a quick-acting, easy-to-use, non-invasive system that delivers a compound that’s been shown to reduce suicidal thoughts.”
- Military funds research for nasal spray that reduces suicidal thoughts
- Doctors need training to identify suicide risk among TBI patients
- NFL star’s suicide note requests his brain be studied for injury
- VA warns veterans about the dangers of Chantix
- Traumatic brain injuries become a priority in U.S. military