VA slow to roll out new depression treatment for patients

The Veterans Health Administration has only treated 15 veterans with a novel depression treatment called esketamine since it was approved in March, reports STAT.

The medication, known by the brand name Spravato, represents the first new depression drug to hit the market in years. In August, President Donald Trump spoke of its positive outcomes and directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to purchase "a lot" of the drug, according to STAT.

However, only seven of the VA's more than 1,200 healthcare facilities nationwide have treated patients with Spravato. The VA said it first rolled out the drug at clinics that already had experience treating mental health patients with ketamine, a similar drug.

The agency's medical advisory board voted against widespread use of Spravato in June. Instead, the drug may only be used for VA patients who have not responded to other treatments. Clinicians must also seek authorization before prescribing the drug and follow specific patient monitoring requirements.

Health experts are split on whether the agency's slow rollout of Spravato is justified. Some argue the agency should increase access to the treatment faster, while others point to safety and efficacy concerns about the drug, along with underwhelming data on its benefits.

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