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. Peter

    How about the military experiments with an anti-starting wars with everyone and see how that effects morale and the desire to commit suicide?

    August 20, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. mudbone9

    Oh yeah that's right let's give these guys Prozac while they are holding a loaded weapon. That way they don't feel so bad when they blow their brains out. What I mean is I hope this was not meant to be administered in the field. These guys need to be removed from combat and properly treated. A soldier with PTSD is a wounded soldier just like one with a flesh wound.

    August 20, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Oh boy

    If you were smart enough to let them smoke a joint, that would work, but it ain't going to happen with ignorance in charge.

    August 20, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Craig C

    "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."

    Does the writer of this article proofread at all? Terrible opening line.

    August 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Angry Mom

    How about this? Stop deploying these soldiers 7, 8 times, etc. to "wars" that have no purpose.

    A respected general said the other day: war is only good for STOPPING something (like Hitler, genocide, etc.). It DOES NOT help with anything. It does not bring peace. It doesn't nation build.

    What war does do is make corporations richer who supply weapons and equipment.

    August 20, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • HZ

      If we had a law that says the soldiers have to get paid 50% of whatever is spent on the fancy weapons and it's split equally among everybody in the military, watch how quick these wars would end and defense spending would drop to $1,000/year. It's all a game for rich people to get richer. I support men & women in uniform but not idiotic wars and lining the pockets of greedy CEOs. The missiles the predator fires cost almost $500k each and something like 4 are now fired on every suspected militant even if the 'suspect' is a rusted out pickup truck. It's ridiculous. That same missile probably only has parts worth a few thousand bucks in it.

      August 20, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Angry Mom

    I was told by a fellow volunteer for Wounded Vets that nowadays soldiers' mission is just to stay alive. And when they return, if injured, if can now take over a year before they even know if the VA will accept their claim for any benefits due them. AND they have the highest unemployment rate.

    That would make anyone suicidal. So stop the lip service that you support Vets - and do something!

    August 20, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. mikrik13

    The military uses its people as test dummies for all kinds of drugs. The VA is even worse.

    August 20, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. yougottabekiddingme

    Am I the only one who caught the HUGE mistake in the first line of the article?

    "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."

    I believe that should say 'decreasing' instead of 'increasing'.....I seriously doubt the Army hopes that a nasal spray will increase suicide and depression rates. As always, great cut-rate editing skills CNN. Seriously? I mean come on, really, the first line of your article is that botched, I didn't even read the rest of the article.

    August 20, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • wpaulbishop

      "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."

      There is a word missing here. The sentence exists to point out the horrible fact that the suicide rate is increasing, but the wording makes it sound like the US military wants it to increase.

      To point out both the nasty statistic and also not imply improper military action, it should read:

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

      August 20, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • English Speaker

      It's not a mistake at all. The author is saying the problem is " increasing suicide and depression rates among members of the U.S. military". Could the solution to that problem lie in a nasal spray? The Army hopes so.

      Makes perfect sense to me.

      August 20, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • evan

      i thought the same exact thing

      August 20, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linguist

      It is not a typo.

      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.

      the "increasing suicide..." is not a verb phrase, its a gerund (nominalization). It is the same syntax as, "The solution to (Egypt's) crumbling statues is to protect them from the elements" on the interpretation that I enjoy bells that are ringing. I think most writers would have put "could the solution to the increasing suicide...". The minor difference between the two variations being that the one in the article is generic (i.e. applies to all instances of increasing suicide rates") whereas the "...solution to the increasing suicide..." variation would have had the definite determiner "the" function as a quantifier that is restricted by the Noun Phrase predicate.

      Heh...guess my Linguistics PhD paid off after all....lol

      August 20, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. DaveYoung

    How about spraying neurotoxin up the nose of every Afghan male over the age of twelve ?

    August 20, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. GIUK

    So now we've got to drug our citizens to fight in a stupid war? OK, I'll buy that.

    August 20, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. NanH

    It would be great if it works and not just for the military

    August 20, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JB

    They already pass out antidepressants like candy to soldiers and wonder why the suicide rate is going up.... maybe they ought to read the black box warning labels?

    August 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • scmcqueen

      Exactly JB, our chemicals have done no good, after 16 years in medicine I have found the solution is rarely (if ever) a chemical.

      August 20, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. person

    Perhaps we should instead confine our military to real and justifiable wars, and engage all of America in those rare occasions so that the armed forces can be properly funded and staffed by motivated soldiers who aren't sent out into hell on one tour of duty after another, over and over again. Maybe if serving in the military felt less like suicide and more like a just and appropriate mission, we'd have fewer military suicides.

    August 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Melissa Horn

    The solution is no more wars, no more violence, end the military, it is really that simple, our perceptions need to change within our world view to Love for all instead of hate, giving instead of greed, surrender instead of control....until people become awakened to a new paradigm shift to Love for all, our world will continue on this path of destruction. Each person has a choice to be part of the solution towards love and peace or towards the problem of wars, greed, power control. Watch suicide rates disappear completely instead of a band aid nasal spray!

    August 20, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • andilayne

      What a novel, naive idea Melissa. Please clear the rainbows and butterfiies from your brain. As long as there are humans, there will always be hatred, power struggles and ignorance...all of these these fine things have lead to war. It is indeed sad...but it is a fact.

      August 20, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • ImpartialPain

      Melissa, If women ran the world and made the decisions, yes, this would be possible–especially if the women in power were mothers. As long as men run the world and make decisions, this is impossible. They are hard-wired to fight and defend. They are hard-wired to be aggressive. A good example are these comment boards and the entire internet. It is the men who are the obscene, aggressive, bullying, and violent commentators. They viciously attack everyone who posts. Where are the women doing this? Trying to do something real about the problems of the world? Perhaps. But they aren't spending all their time posting nasty stuff to show the world how "tough" they are. Now...watch the attacks this post will generate. They are predictable and will be amusing.

      August 20, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tired of Repugs

    It's not the war, Its the Army leadership driving soldiers to suicide. The Army hooked up most of its "leaders" with a Bronze Star after the war for just showing up. I worked for a Lieutenant Colonel who received a Bronze Star for making maps. The soldiers that actually got out there in harms way only came back with low ranking medals. After the war, the officers still treat them like crap. The Army's leadership, officers, treat soldiers like crap! Enlisted soldiers will privately tell you that they don't trust Army officers. Army officers back each other, cover up for each other, and are a "Good Ole Boys" network. The only time an Army officer really cares about a troop is if it looks good for a promotion.

    August 20, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13