Veterans Affairs To Offer Ketamine-Based Nasal Spray For Depression Treatment

By Bryan Le 03/25/19

The recently approved drug is said to relieve symptoms of depression as well as suicidal ideation in a short timeframe. 

Image of war veteran after mental breakdown during psychiatric treatment
Vets have another option. Katarzyna Bialasiewicz |

Veterans Affairs officials are now allowing VA doctors to prescribe Spravato, a medically viable variation of ketamine, to service members who suffer from depression.

The drug has been known to beat some symptoms of depression extraordinarily quickly—taking just a few short days, or hours instead of weeks. Suicidal thoughts have been seen to dissipate in a timeframe as short as 40 minutes.

“That first skyrocket up was my first infusion,” said Matthew Ayo, a 23-year-old who underwent ketamine treatment. “I went from severe depression to no depression symptoms.”

Doctors will be able to prescribe Spravato only if at least two other antidepressants have been tried and failed to produce results.

"We're pleased to be able to expand options for Veterans with depression who have not responded to other treatments," said VA secretary Robert Wilkie.

Of the United States’ 20 million veterans, an estimated 14%—or 2.8 million veterans—are diagnosed with depression. Of those veterans, one-third to one-half may suffer from treatment-resistant depression, which is why it was so critical to find something new and fast.

"Controlled clinical trials that studied the safety and efficacy of this drug, along with careful review through the FDA's drug approval process, including a robust discussion with our external advisory committees, were important in our decision to approve this treatment," said Dr. Tiffany Farchione, acting director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Division of Psychiatry Products.

Spravato isn’t without side effects, however—including sedation, blood pressure spikes, and dissociation, including feeling paralysis or out-of-body sensations. Ironically, misuse may lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Hence, the FDA approved the drug for VA prescriptions with restrictions.

Veterans approved for the treatment would use the nasal spray under medical supervision. Afterwards, medical staff would monitor the patient for two hours. The patient would have to return for two doses a week for the first month, and one dose every two or three weeks in the months following. To prevent potential misuse, there is no option for home treatment.

Ketamine’s new role is a far cry from its former life as “Special K,” an anesthetic that saw use on the dance floor as well as the battlefield. In the latter usage, military medical staff found that those prescribed with ketamine for pain also had fewer symptoms of PTSD.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter