Ahead of his remarks at the AMVETS national convention on Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced he has instructed Veterans Affairs officials to make a massive purchase of the antidepressant Spravato in an effort to stem veterans suicide.
The president said the drug — developed by a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical firm Johnson & Johnson — has shown a “tremendously positive” effect in early testing and he is optimistic it can help with mental health problems in the veterans community. VA research shows that nationwide, about 20 veterans a day die by suicide.
“This is a form of a stimulant where, if someone is really in trouble from the standpoint of suicide, it can do something,” Trump said. “It’s pretty well known, it just came out. We have calls in to Johnson & Johnson now, we’ve been talking to them for two months on buying a lot of it.”
Earlier this year, the Center for Public Integrity reported that Trump was pushing VA officials for quicker adoption of Spravato — a ketamine-like drug with the formal name esketamine — in mental health treatments despite concerns from some medical experts about its effectiveness.
In June, a VA medical advisory panel declined to put the drug on its list of VA-approved medications. The move did not ban use of the drug but does require VA physicians to provide additional justification for why patients may need the medication, and mandates additional monitoring for potential side effects.
Despite that, Trump on several occasions has mentioned the drug as a potential solution for depression and suicidal thoughts. The medication is available as a nasal spray.
“Hopefully we’re getting it at a really good cost,” he said.
In recent months, Johnson & Johnson has touted the medication “a breakthrough medicine” and said they are working with VA officials to ensure broader access to it.
The president’s comments came in response to a question about the administration’s response to the problem of veterans suicide. Trump also mentioned the interagency task force he established this spring, which is scheduled to release a report early next year on new approaches and policies to help struggling veterans.
Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.