A loss of hope is a classic symptom of depression. Drugs and therapies have been developed to help balance or trigger serotonin, norepinephrine and other neurotransmitters. But for one-third of depressed patients, the medications don’t really work. Alternatives include electroconvulsive therapy or other intensive treatment options. Too often, the last resort is suicide.
In 2013, ketamine, a drug commonly used for anesthesia—and known in the Vietnam era as a party drug--was studied for its ability to target and inhibit the action of N-Methyl-D-aspartate (“NMDA”) receptors of nerve cells. The results were overwhelmingly favorable. Initial studies indicated that 70 percent of Treatment-Resistant-Depression (“TRD”) patients saw an improvement in symptoms within 24 hours of being injected with a low dose of ketamine. For the first time, there was a fast treatment for the severely depressed.
The studies triggered the FDA to grant Fast Track Status to the development of a new NMDA-receptor-targeting medications based on the ketamine profile. Some, like esketamine, received breakthrough status from the FDA, enhancing the probability that these new drugs will be available to patients in 2017.
With nearly 43,000 suicides a year in the U.S., the need for effective treatment looms large. In the medical community, hope has never been higher.