Can nasal spray help prevent military suicides?
The U.S. military reported its highest rate of suicide in July.
August 20th, 2012
10:22 AM ET

Can nasal spray help prevent military suicides?

Could the solution to increasing suicide and depression rates among members of the U.S. military lie in a nasal spray? The Army hopes so.

In the midst of a crisis that saw its highest rate of suicide in July, the Army has greenlighted a grant for Dr. Michael Kubek, an Indiana University of Medicine professor, to dig deeper into whether a nasal spray could be a safe and effective way to administer a specific antidepressive neurochemical to the brain and help calm suicidal thoughts.

The Army counted 38 confirmed or suspected suicides in July, a tally that took into account both active- and non-active-duty members of the Army National Guard or Reserve. Three of those active-duty soldiers were deployed at the time of their deaths. Before July, the highest monthly level suicide rate for soldiers was 33 in June 2010 and July 2011, according to statistics released by the Army.

Kubek helped discover thyrotropin-releasing hormone, or TRH, which is known to have antisuicidal and antidepression effects. The problem is that the naturally occurring chemical cannot easily cross the “blood-brain barrier.” The barrier is meant to protect the nervous system by keeping out any substances in the blood that could injure the brain, including hormones and neurotransmitters. But it also makes it extremely difficult to get TRH to the brain, rendering normal methods of delivering the chemical, through pills or injection, largely unhelpful.

The military is hoping Kubek, an associate professor of anatomy and cell biology and of neurobiology, can use a three-year grant to work with other researchers to use a nasal spray to get TRH safely into the brain and calm soldiers' thoughts.

Kubek's research was spotted by Navy physician Capt. Neal Naito several years ago, according to a news release from Indiana University. Naito, who had been the director of public health for the Navy but is now retired, reached out to Kubek to see whether his research might be applied to active military members and veterans.

The Army has confirmed 120 suicides for both active- and non-active-duty soldiers in 2012, with 67 other deaths suspected as suicides but still under investigation. Twenty-five of those were attributed to soldiers who did not have any previous deployments. The Army reported 242 suicides in 2009, 305 in 2010 and 283 in 2011.

“These deaths are troubling and tragic,” 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.”

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told a congressional committee last month that the U.S. military was facing an "epidemic" of suicides and was in need of improvements in mental health services for active-duty and returning troops.

The military spends about $2 billion a year on mental health for its members. But many who study and report on military suicides say the stigma attached to depression as well as the red tape involved in implementing a program make it difficult to attack the problem in the aggressive way that is needed.

Time magazine Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Mark Thompson says a former high-ranking Army officer told him, “there are promising techniques that the military could deploy against suicide, but they involve an initial two-hour screening, a sit-down, a one-on-one with a psychiatrist that this nation is just not willing to pay for.”

Kubek's techniques could be promising. It will take a few years to know, but it's research the Army knows is important.

"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, said in a written statement after the July release of suicide statistics. "That said, I do believe suicide is preventable. To combat it effectively will require sophisticated solutions aimed at helping individuals to build resiliency and strengthen their life coping skills."

Kubek will work with pharmacology professor Abraham Domb from Hebrew University in Jerusalem to figure out how to deliver the drug effectively. That process, according to Indiana University’s School of Medicine, should take about a year. Kubek would then work with researchers at Purdue University on clinical trials in the second and third years of the grant.

soundoff (288 Responses)
  1. Bum1

    What a stupid article and even dumber theory.

    August 20, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  2. Philip

    LMAO 🙂 (no, not at those who kill themselves as you would assume. At how the military gets a nose spray and we didn't. Ditto we don't get military technology to fight fires. We didn't even get a C-130 from the military until the 3rd day of the worst fire Colorado Springs ever had! And we've got two US Air Force bases in town! We're the freaking home of NORAD! AND HAD TO WAIT THREE DAYS TO GET EVEN ONE C-130 aiplane.
    And bet your ass that many soldiers whom killed themselves were already under a doctors care and on prescription drugs.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
  3. Philip

    Thank's to whomever posed as me At 10:58. Perfect timing.
    Yes. Crackmom make dumb baby same as pharmaceutical mom make dumb baby. Care to debate?

    August 20, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  4. Obama Mama

    I think it is a great idea. Sometimes the things you think are far fetched turn out to be the most helpful. I know people who have migrains and use a pill that is put under your tongue. The brain is nothing less than miraculous and still being studied. If you can give children vaccines, why not a anti-depressant? I hope it works to enable a feeling of hopelessness to pass and help our heroes live to tell and help others suffering from depression. They are worth it.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Hey, hey, Mama.
      I think this is a good idea, also; as this is a naturally occurring substance, it seems ideal.
      That being said, yes, research is needed, and I hope they are *not* using these soldiers as guinea pigs...
      Another sure way is to stop sending our soldiers into situations that are unwinnable...

      August 20, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Obama Mama

      HI banasy and yes you are right, you know I was against sending them also in the 1st place. What is in your mind will drive you crazy, horrors of which none of us will or can imagine. Have you hugged a hero today? I never pass up a chance, and do not wait till memorial day. If this is to help I see no reason not to try, and I would think they also should get counciling along with it. What happens after the use of the spray? I would think visions of unknown horrors would still be there.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Canada

      What a world, when we think its a good idea to help our soldiers by giving em anti-deppresants. Naturally occuring just like THC in weed, why don't we just give em weed to calm down? then hand them an M16? as someone who is on a AD, this is a terrible idea, I wouldn't wish this on anyone. We can help them by not sending them in harms way unless it is absolutely neccesary. America's Illegal war made them sick. I wonder how the guys in gitmo who torture are doing?

      August 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Philip

    The first 155 days of this year saw 154 active-duty soldiers kill themselves.
    Suiced rates are at their highest ever for active-duty persnnel.
    Why is it that the military suicide rate doesn't have to wait until X-Mass (dec 25) to spike but ours does?

    August 20, 2012 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
  6. svann

    Drug them up. Just like in THX1138 your pharms will be mandatory.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
  7. joe fortnyer

    Maybe if this country had not deported our manufacturing, technology and there were still a way to make a living here other than join up, we would not need so much nasal spray.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  8. Obama Mama

    @Philip – did not see any of your posts, til now, I only saw Bum1's. I have not been on here since I saw your post about Sibel Edwards. Did you make it on TV? That was the last post I saw and did not get back to see if you were on, did you?
    I guess I will be reading your posts about this drug today? I would assume it will say that we are using our military as guinea pigs for the nasal drug?

    August 20, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  9. Cinic

    I hope it helps them not kill themselves so they can be killed on the battlefield. Or does it really matter how you die.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
  10. Seyedibar

    A smarter solution would be to stop sending soldiers to slaughter civilians in their homelands. I've known two soldiers who ended their lives, and in both instances it was for henious crimes they thought could never be washed from their conscience. I think it'll take a little more than prozac snuff to help these men.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  11. two12er

    hmmm – how about NOT sending soldiers to these faraway countries that really cant do us much harm anyway (though of course government propaganda will tell you otherwise to keep you scared). Less suicide and we can all get a $2,000 check in the mail instead.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  12. Spartacus

    Horse Kakaa...just out right B.S.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  13. Woody

    The way to help stop suicides in the military starts with having a caring family , and people that are not afraid of seeing someone in a wheelchair . Many suburbs do not have sidewalks for those that are disabled to walk , or use their wheelchair . Some cities prefer to move their VA hospitals to the suburbs away from the city itself where there are river fronts , restaurants , ball games . There are a lot of people with disabilities mental as well as physical . We need an accepting society of those disabilities . And a government that will help supply disability access . Especially in areas where there are no sidewalks .

    August 20, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  14. Spirit of Xmas

    It is none other than the Spirit of Xmas that has US suicide rates peak at christmastime each year.
    The Spirit of Xmas is dressed-up as an angel but is really just a greedy old man. A greedy system bent on taking and all the while in the name of "giving", complete with a little weakling baby Jesus that grows up to be everones buddy.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Pass the Popcorn

      Spirit, we're talking about soldier's suicide, which peaks in July, Focus, child, focus.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  15. James R Oliver

    What was the name of the Drug Company that suported this article.Isn't there a pill for that already, I mean we are the medicated nation aren't we

    August 20, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Canada

      Exactly, who was paid off to run this article?

      August 20, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
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