The data from studies of the drug shows it “may offer clinicians a new way to provide support to patients quickly in the midst of an urgent depressive episode and help set them on the path to remission”, said Gerard Sanacora, director of Yale’s Depression Research Program and a trial investigator.
America has been in the throes of a suicide crisis even before the pandemic, with the rate rising 30 per cent from 1999 to 2016. COVID-19 closures limited the number of people given the spray as a depression treatment in-person at specified centres.
Ultimately, though, the numbers improved as patients and centres adapted and concerns grew within the mental health community that physical distancing and social isolation of quarantine may exacerbate people’s existing problems or introduce new ones.
“Relatively rapidly within a few weeks we saw the numbers stabilise, which was pretty interesting for us and validating in the sense that clinic and patients alike were continuing to make this available,” Kramer said. “We certainly see more and more sites sign on and more and more patients are treated.”
Spravato is a close chemical cousin of the anesthetic ketamine, which differs from existing antidepressants because it acts on the glutamate system in the brain rather than on seratonin or norepinepherine. Scientists have been working to better understand how the drug helps patients and why it works so quickly.
The drug’s approval last year marked the first major breakthrough for depression since 1987. US President Donald Trump has since trumpeted the drug as having the potential to curb veteran suicides, but a Veterans Affairs medical panel only approved the drug’s use on a limited basis.