PTSD haunts one in every six soldiers coming back from Iraq, and nearly eight million Americans in all. Standard treatment doesn't always work. Now, one doctor is treating PTSD with an injection.
This used to be Iraq veteran John Sullivan's world.
"I was firing a rocket propelled grenade, RPG. When I pulled the trigger, it malfunctioned, and it blew up in the tube. Injured seven Marines and killed three - all good friends of mine," he said.
Some 13 surgeries, several skin grafts and two years of therapy later, this Marine has recovered, but that doesn't mean he's symptom free.
"I was riding on a bus with my uncle going to a baseball game, and the tire blew out. (I) started having a panic attack," said John.
John was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Anti-anxiety meds didn't work, so he's trying an experimental treatment: an injection to the neck.
"The way I look at PTSD, it's a biological problem. It's no different than a broken arm," said Dr. Eugene Lipv, medical director at Advanced Pain Center.
Dr. Lipov is the first to use a local anesthetic to treat PTSD. It's called Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB). It's been around since the 1920s.
"It works in 30 minutes. What else works in 30 minutes?" said Lipov.
Lipov says when a traumatic event is experienced, nerves in the brain sprout like flowers. By applying the local anesthetic, the nerve growth factor returns to normal. In a recent study at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, doctors found the shot provided "immediate, significant and durable relief" for two soldiers who didn't respond to pills.
Other doctors say more safety studies are needed. John says it worked for him.
"I'm not really taking any more anxiety medication or sleeping medication. I can sleep through the night without having panic attacks," said John, a Marine still fighting for a peaceful life.
There are risks of any injection into the neck, including seizures and lung problems. Dr. Lipov does have FDA clearance. He says one injection could last years, even a lifetime.
Dr. Lipov is currently performing a single blind study to provide the data needed to make this a more widely accepted treatment.
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