The United States Food and Drug Administration has approved Spravato, a nasal spray produced by American multinational corporation Johnson & Johnson, for use as an antidepressant for actively suicidal persons, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday. As many as 11% to 12% of 1.7 crore Americans with major depressive disorder are known to have suicidal thoughts.

Michelle Kramer, vice president of Johnson & Johnson’s US neuroscience medical-affairs unit, said the spray has been used by about 6,000 individuals for treatment-resistant depression since its launch in March 2019. Unlike older antidepressants whose effects take weeks, Spravato is a quick-acting medication, Kramer said. In its trials, Johnson & Johnson found that those who used the spray had a rapid reduction in the severity of their thinking.

Suicide rates in the United States have risen by 30% from 1999 to 2016. The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has worsened the situation. But many clinical testing sites began to conduct research into Spravato.

“Relatively rapidly within a few weeks we saw the numbers stabilise, which was pretty interesting for us and validating in the sense that clinic and patients alike were continuing to make this available,” Kramer said. “We certainly see more and more sites sign on and more and more patients are treated.”

Spravato is similar to the anaesthetic ketamine, which acts on the glutamate system in the brain rather than on serotonin or norepinephrine, unlike traditional antidepressants. United States President Donald Trump had last year promoted use of the drug by American war veterans. The drug is being produced by Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals.