I am a combat veteran. I served for twelve years total in both the Marines and the U.S. Army defending my nation. I deployed to Iraq in 2005-2006. I came home with a TBI (brain damage) and PTSD from the constant shelling of the base. The TBI was most likely due to my being inside a port-a-john when a mortar exploded next to it. I came home on October 26th, 2006. I first tried to kill myself on December 24, 2006 after going to a church and an Army Hospital for help. I was turned away by both.
So, I drank a bottle of vodka, loaded a Beretta 9mm, put it to my temple and pulled the trigger. The gun misfired, but as the hammer fell I found the peace I desperately needed. Each day, though, twenty veterans have a similar experience and are not as lucky as I was. They were buried under the flag of the country they loved and were willing to die to defend. They just never realized they would die by their own hand on America soil far from the battle zone. What I did not know, what my fallen brothers and sisters in arms did not know is there is a cure.
The Veterans Administration in a new study has reduced the commonly referenced number of suicides by Veterans from 22 per day to 20 Veterans a day. As a Veteran, I can tell you these numbers are low. There are many reason for this number to be reported lower than is the case, such as using State records that may not identify a victim of suicide as a Veteran. Further, cases of accidental overdose, car accidents and other manner of death that in fact was intentional, may be recorded as an accident. Mental Health treatment is paramount in reducing the number of Veterans who kill themselves, and do other self-harm short of ending their life.
The VA and other mental health professionals have come up with new and exciting treatments and medications. But there is resistance among professionals to use treatments that work. We have all heard how medical use of marijuana is beneficial, and it is. However, I was very fortunate to participate in an experimental research project in Charleston, SC. The study was FDA and DEA approved and conducted by a group called the Multi-Disciplinary Associations for Psychedelic Studies or MAPS. I cannot emphasize how much this treatment changed my life. I went from constant daily suicidal ideation, anxiety, depression, to almost nothing. The best part was this was not lifelong treatment and medication. Three treatments led to a 50% reduction in my symptoms, permanently.
So why isn’t this treatment given to every Veteran suffering from PTSD? Well, it’s because it is illegal. The treatment is 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as MDMA, Ecstasy, or Molly. That’s right, the drug best known as a party and rave drug, cures PTSD. I do not use the term “cure” lightly. The Phase I and Phase II trials are complete. The results are stunning. 83% of participants no longer meet the clinical definition of PTSD. Everyone, even if the still meet the definition of PTSD saw a reduction in symptoms. Compared to the placebo which showed 25% of participants had reduced symptoms. The two most commonly used VA approved treatments are cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and prolonged exposure therapy (PE). While 70% of Veterans who received this treatment showed improvement in symptoms, 66% still met the clinical definition of PTSD. These treatments also leave 30% with no improvement. This treatment must be added to the arsenal of treatments available to our Veterans.
This treatment is safe and effective. The protocols for treatment call for administration of MDMA in a clinical setting. I want to emphasize that this treatment isn’t a prescription for MDMA to take home. The only time I was in possession of MDMA was when they handed it to me and I immediately placed it in my mouth. When it started to take effect, my counselors began my 6-hour therapy session. It was intensive and psychedelic. The protocols call for two psychologists, one male and one female. The treatments are done approximately 6 weeks apart with therapy in between treatments. I saw improvement after the first treatment. After completing all three, the results were life altering. I went from being in a VA Mental Health Ward to working on a US Presidential Campaign for Sen Rand Paul in less than two years.
While I will freely admit, there is potential for people to abuse MDMA, we also use many other highly potent drugs in clinical settings where there is a need and no opportunity for patients to abuse the drug. Consider people having surgery, they are frequently given extremely potent drugs to knock them out. This treatment is administered by a doctor in a doctor’s office, like a surgical patient. This treatment should be approved for widespread use to treat PTSD. This treatment is effective in Veterans, sexual assault survivors, domestic abuse survivors, and any other cause of PTSD. For this reason, the FDA will issue a decision on November 29th on whether the Phase III trials can begin. If the results are the same MDMA will be rescheduled in 5 years.
While there is a moral imperative that this treatment be approved to help those with severe PTSD, there is also an economic imperative. With this treatment, many Veterans would be able to work and be productive members of society and contributing by paying taxes. They would also have a reduced need for VA services reducing wait times at the VA. The largest impact in this treatment is if a Veteran can be cured, and went back to work he or she wouldn’t need VA and Social Security disability any longer. This may seem like a small amount, but for a Veteran who is 100% rated due to PTSD that equals over a million dollars over 20 years. With 18% of the millions of Veterans suffering from PTSD this adds up to a substantial amount. If the VA and the FDA truly want to reduce Veteran suicide, the cure is there, will they show the same courage Veterans have shown on the battlefield and approve this treatment? Only time will tell.