A therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder that some doctors believe will “revolutionize the way PTSD is handled” was the subject of a recent “60 Minutes” report featuring a number of afflicted veterans, including one Medal of Honor recipient.
The breakthrough treatment, called stellate ganglion block, or SGB, has been shown to significantly diminish various symptoms of PTSD, such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
By injecting an anesthetic that numbs a bundle of nerves at the base of the neck, the SGB treatment dulls the area that serves as the body’s “fight or flight” response transmitter, providing instantaneous relief from some of the epidemic’s most chronic symptoms.
The shot is meticulously administered using ultrasound imagery to track the injection’s precision. Its results, meanwhile, are almost immediate and can last for months.
Initially used to treat women experiencing menopausal hot flashes, the SGB shot was first discovered to benefit patients suffering from PTSD after trials administered by Dr. Eugene Lipov, who currently works with the Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business in collaboration with Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
“I feel like a million pounds was taken off me,” Medal of Honor recipient and Marine veteran Dakota Meyer told “60 Minutes” immediately after being administered one of the shots.
“The best analogy I got for you is, like, if you took from being downtown New York City in rush hour traffic to, all of a sudden, driving down a quiet country road with nowhere to be."
Meyer was in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, in September 2009, when a patrol he was providing security for was ambushed by more than 50 enemy fighters.
Realizing the team’s exit had been cut off, Meyer made five trips into the ambush zone over a period of six hours, braving walls of enemy fire each time to save as many pinned down personnel as he could.
“He would tell us that he was not able to get the war out of his head,” 60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker said of Meyer’s time since that hellish day.
“He brought it home with him. He was tense, he was anxious. He was quick to anger. He was losing his friends."
But after receiving the injection by current doctor and former Navy SEAL Sean Mulvaney, a relieved Meyer felt “normal.”
Nearly 3 million service members like Meyer have deployed in support of American war operations since 2001. Of those who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, approximately 14 percent to 20 percent suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
And while SGB is not designed to get rid of memories associated with the trauma veterans have endured, it will significantly calm the way an afflicted individual responds to those thoughts. Thus, improving responsiveness to other forms of therapy, the “60 Minutes” study claimed.
Previous studies of small participant groups have backed up such proclamations.
In 2014, for example, a study in the “Military Medicine” journal found that just one week after the first SGB injection, nearly 80 percent of study participants experienced significant relief from PTSD symptoms.
Two years later, the Army received a $2 million grant from the Department of Defense to begin a randomized, three-year study to test the effects of the treatment on a group of 240 veterans afflicted by PTSD.
That study is set to conclude sometime this year.
Watch the full “60 Minutes” report on SGB below.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.