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. joe

    Can they make this in a suppository?

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

      No, but I can.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  2. mat

    the dumbest idea I have ever heard !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Keep on drinking the cool aid.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin jablonski

      how is this a dumb idea. this nasal spray passes through the blood-brain barrier more effectively than a pill would, and faster. I applaud the military for taking action.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew McCauley

      At first I thought your comment was stupid and uninformed, then I saw how many exclamation points you used and realized you must be an expert.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Canada

      no. buddy is right, this is stupid. , jeeze, did the insurance/drug companies pay you guys off too?

      August 20, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. creative36

    Eventually the Army is going to be like: this is stupid. Why even have soldiers. They will computerize and automate their killing. AutoDeath. Then the USA can kill people 24/7/364.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • umm, 364?

      why only 364 days? which day do they take off?

      August 20, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Christmas, I'm assuming...

      August 20, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • G

      but why would computers need to have Christmas off? lol

      August 20, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Canada

      Because they're programmed too emulate the Right-wing.

      August 20, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Philip

    @Woody. Imagine the logistics involved with moving VA hospitals out of cities. How stupid are you? Suicide linked with wheelchair access?
    We need to "accept disabilities"? LMAO. If we accept disabilities, suicide rates will go down, says Woody.
    And @Woody. Where are you from? I've never seen you here before today.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Pass the Popcorn

      Hey, Philip, if you're wondering why people don't want to talk to you, let alone DEBATE you, read this response and rethink your social skills. How stupid are you?

      August 20, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  5. dellasman

    What's next? A nasal spray for cowardice?

    August 20, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  6. Person

    Spend millions on a wonder drug, or just set up mandatory counseling with the system already in place? hmm. better spend more taxpayers money!

    August 20, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  7. Joe

    This reminds of Star Trek TNG episode #1, where Q speaks about humanity's past (our future) and how the military used drugs to control the behavior of their soldiers. Scary.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  8. Saboth

    So sad a big pharma company had to come up with this. Just legalize pot.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Canada

      pretty much the same thing, and at least you know the funds go right to the guy up the street trying to feed his family, instead of buying swivel chairs bmw's, and endorsments.

      August 20, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Brian

    Or we could just stop fighting wars...

    August 20, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew McCauley

      It's people like you that make me sick. If we stopped fighting wars imagine what would happen to our profits. And where else would the government spend that money? On the sick? On the homeless? On education? On infrastructure?

      August 20, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Canada

      haha, did everyone just see what andrew did? he fooled us into thinking he was a Republican! good satire, very good!
      But seriously dude, then everyone would have fun toppling regimes...

      August 20, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joe

    "Could the solution to increasing suicide and depression rates among members of the U.S. military lie in a nasal spray? "
    Interesting way to phrase this...

    August 20, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  11. Moxie Man

    And the drug company will probably make it addictive so that the soldier is hooked on it for life.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  12. Jim in Denver

    Or maybe we should stop sending our sons and daughters into harm's way for unnecessary and endless wars without clear goals or objectives, instead of pumping them full of drugs so that the military industrial complex can continue to make a buck. The war on terror is nothing but a free license for merchants of death to get rich quick, and on the taxpayers' dime.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  13. Roscoe Chait

    I've never heard of an anti-depressant taking less than 30 days continuous use to become effective.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Pass the Popcorn

      This is a natural hormone found in the body and would bypass those barriers.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Roscoe Chait

      To Pass the Popcorn. I'm not talking about the blood/brain barrier. I'm talking about effectiveness.

      August 20, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cory

    i would hope the soultion to INCREASING suicide and depression rates woudlnt lie within spray...

    shouldnt it say decreasing?....

    August 20, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. WD

    In Vietnam we had a nasal spray for depression...it was white and measured in kilos.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • JeffinIL

      My first thought was along similar....lines.

      August 20, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Ba dum ching!

      August 20, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Irish

      Wow...times have changed. Nowdays I can't show up to my unit without "giving a sample".

      August 20, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13