Anti-Suicide Nasal Spray?
The suicide rate among soldiers is at an all-time high, and like the problem-solvers they are, the Army has committed to making a difference…one that could benefit everyone. Thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) is a proven antidepressant, but traditional delivery methods don’t work because TRH can’t cross the blood-brain barrier, rendering pills and injections ineffectual. The only effective method of delivery in the past was through spinal taps, not a practical solution in most situations.
Rising Suicide Rates
The suicide rate among soldiers and veterans has risen dramatically and is currently one per day, up 18% since last year. In 2001, there were 52 suicides in the Army. The number has climbed steadily every year. To put this in appalling perspective, there are now more soldier deaths due to suicide than to combat. And suicide isn’t a problem restricted to soldiers. It’s the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S.
To combat the new enemy, the U.S. Army commissioned a new delivery system for TRH. Dr. Michael Kubek, an associate professor of neurobiology at the University of Indiana’s School of Medicine is working on a nanoparticle drug-delivery system that delivers medicine directly to the brain through the nasal cavity. The $3 million grant will fund further studies and human trials over a period of three years to determine the efficacy and safety of the spray.
Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) said it is a brilliant idea with potential far beyond antidepressants. In an interview with the Daily, he said, “It would solve one of the biggest problems we have with medication used today. It might work, but it doesn’t work fast enough…The nasal spray would stabilize them right away, while they wait for the [antidepressants] to do their job.”
TRH would not replace traditional treatments for depression, but would be used as an emergency measure to help people get through the initial period when antidepressants often exacerbate suicidal impulses, especially in young adults. The spray would keep them stable during the four to six week adjustment period for drugs like Prozac or Zoloft. While the treatment suppresses imminent suicide impulses, it does nothing to address the underlying cause of those feelings and isn’t intended for ongoing use.
Of course, the success rate of the delivery system is entirely dependent on the number of suicides already diagnosed and under treatment. People who commit suicide before they seek help for depression can’t be helped by medication, no matter how effective. Mental illness is still stigmatized to the extent that it often goes unreported. We should be talking about early intervention and effective therapies, especially for people at greatest risk. Like soldiers, active or retired.
It is interesting to contemplate other potential uses of drugs delivered by nasal spray. It’s a great delivery system – portable, painless, convenient. What other uses do you think might arise from this research?