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. Lou Cypher

    Haven't we been telling everyone that snorting drugs up your nose to feel better is WRONG!?!?!!??!?!!!????!!!!!!11

    August 20, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Corey

      @ Lou unhealthy when abused would be a better word to use then wrong.

      August 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Lee Oates

    A better solution may be to quit unjust wars, killing innocent civilians, and finding more diplomatic ways to solve problems. Drugging our young people in the military in order to kill better is no solution.

    August 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • CM

      That's exactly what they want. Unfeeling killing machines!

      August 20, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Thankful

    LOL...really? A nasal spray SSRI to stop suicidal thoughts? Have we become THAT dense? I agree with alot on here about THC/marijuana...BUT, there is no magic pill for anything. Our troops need to have a mandated civilian life re-entry training when they come back from war, such as http://www.createagreatlife.org Get to the heart of the issues they each face

    August 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      I guess you didn't read the article, about 20% of the people that had commited suicide this year had never been deployed.

      August 20, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pogo

      "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.”
      It's not what you think.

      August 20, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bren

    Shouldnt it be decrease? Or does the army really hope it will increase?

    August 20, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Roger Ogilvy Thornhill

    Is it cheaper than real therapy?

    August 20, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. chrissy

    @ xray, so what youre saying is: If a soldier serves his country and is disabled while doing that he is NOT enti tled to disability? Something sure does stink and my guess is its opinions like THAT!

    August 20, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  7. pooflingingmonkey

    Maybe stop fighting pointless wars so our soldiers can come home?

    August 20, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ipayattention

    chemical are never the sollution to these problems.....90% of the time they make things worse....therapy is the only 100% true way to helpa person suffering from mental illness....all drugs do is mask the problem...this story is disgusting

    August 20, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pogo

      hey don't have the luxory of time consuming therapy while actively deployed, not that this spray would make it better...

      August 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Huh

    Is it just me or could the first sentance 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." be better worded? I had to reread it a few times...to me it sounds like the army wants to find a solution to increase suicides and depression and I thought how horrible! and that can't be right....but then I reread it and realized the intent. Was it just me who thought this? I am blonde....

    August 20, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bren

      Except I already said that.

      August 20, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Corey

      It is intended to convey "could the solution to the rising rate of...."

      August 20, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Paul

    Military honestly is pointless unless you plan on joining for a full 20. They make grand promises about college that are all lies. You get used until you are broken and get out with multiple life long injuries and then you join a work force that can care less if you were a veteran.

    The years I was in were pointless and only made me lose out on 4 years of my life and probably did life long damage to my liver dealing with the daily up and down of being yelled and treated like dirt.

    August 20, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. danmac

    Back in the late 70s I was interviewd by a local TV station that asked if I thought widespread drug use by soldiers was making the force ineffective. I said no, but I believed that the ineffectiveness of the force drove many soldiers to use drugs...
    They didn't use my interview.

    August 20, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Robert

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

    Increasing suicide and depression rates is an Army goal now? Maybe you should learn to write before I get suicidal.

    August 20, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. CM

    We want unfeeling killing machines. It's okay that you had to kill someone for us or watch your friends die. We need you to secure our business interests in the middle east so that we can spread our globalist ideals and fake war on terror so that we can implement our New World Order. We're going to give you a nice new drug to make you feel better and then we'll use it on the civilian population so they won't care that we control everything. So just get in line and get your chip. Everything will be okay, I promise!

    August 20, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Greg

    Typical Army. Treat the symptoms and not the source.

    August 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • jboHDrider

      Typical statement from troll who has never served.

      August 20, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Heaveninc

      It is simple people have trouble killing people and people attempting to kill them. Enough all ready, deploy every politician that votes to have wars and send the troops home.

      August 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Canada

      Yea, Greg is a troll that is not stupid enough to join a Tyrannical Empire in illegal wars. DId you serve? why didn't you die there, so that your folks can ask that question. Why did my son die for Saddam Hussein?

      August 20, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Pogo

    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.”

    This is natural. Your doctor isn't going to comment on a natural hormone. Thanks for spamming, anyhow.

    August 20, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13