Doctor: Popular blood pressure med may help battle PTSD

Doctor: Popular blood pressure med may help battle PTSD »Play Video
Reece Street, left, is seen with his son, Xavier, and fiance, Rosa Duran.
SEATTLE -- As many as 3,000 soldiers from the 4th and 5th Stryker brigade could currently be suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. And without help, the flashbacks, nightmares, irritability and difficulty sleeping can turn deadly.

But an old medicine might mean new hope for thousands of our warriors.

Josephine Duran's daughter, Rosa, was murdered. Investigators say her own fiance, Reece Street - a sharpshooter who served in Iraq, shot the woman to death.

Duran says Street came home from duty, tormented. She's convinced he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Dec. 5, 2009 police say Smith walked into the couple's Tacoma bedroom and shot his fiance as she slept.

"I know he loved my daughter. I know he adored his son," said Duran.

Then he walked into the bathroom and put the gun to his head.

"God bless and protect always in memory of Rosa Duran," said the victim's mother.

Duran's heart aches for her daughter, her orphaned grandson, Xavier, and every service member struggling alone with PTSD.

"I think the pain he was feeling and trying to deal with what he witnessed is what did it," she said. For Duran, that makes forgiveness possible.

"It is a tragedy what happened, but I don't blame him for what happened," she said. "It's just so much pain they can't handle, they can't handle it."

Dr. Murray Raskind, director of the Veterans Affairs' Northwest Network for Mental Illness and vice chair of psychiatry at the University of Washington, agrees.

"I think it's highly likely - almost certain - he was suffering some PTSD," he said. "Many times, these soldiers with severe PTSD will feel life isn't worth living."

Raskind believes up to 40 percent of service members returning from Iraq or Afghanistan are suffering from some form of PTSD.

"Many of them when they come back continue to be in an adrenaline-charged-brain-hyperactive state," he said. "Their major complaint was, 'Doc, I can't sleep. I have been back from Vietnam for decades, and I'm tortured by these nightmares."'

Marine Larry Scott survived attacks by the North Vietnamese during the siege at Khe Sanh in1968. When he came home, he was attacked by vivid nightmares.

"When I would fall asleep, everything was there with me. I was actually sometimes there, fighting the war in my room," he said. "We were warriors."

Scott was a soldier who fought hand-to-hand combat.

"They never overran us; they hit us. They came every night. They hit us somewhere," he said.

Every morning meant a body count of their fallen comrades for Scott and his fellow soldiers.

"There were times when I actually...I was waiting for them to tell me I was dead. I was waiting for my name," he said.

For decades after Vietnam, Scott struggled. In 1995, he planned to kill himself. The pain of war was proving to be too much.

But then he met Raskind, who had a theory that a popular blood pressure medication could help PTSD sufferers by blocking adrenaline from crossing into the brain.

"It saved my life. That's the reason I'm alive. I know it is," said Scott.

"This medication is called Prazosin," said Raskind, adding the drug is by far the most effective approach for normalizing sleep, which helps tame those nightmares. "It's quite remarkable. Something as simple as sleep is so central to our daily function, and, I'm increasingly convinced, central to what we call PTSD."

Prazosin, also known as the PTSD pill, is a Godsend for Scott.

"Fifteen years later, it's been working out great," he said.

Raskind said success stories like Scott's are making the drug popular with the military.

Prazosin is off-patent, so it's available as an inexpensive generic drug. But because it's not marketed for PTSD, it's still relatively unheard of and shared mainly by word of mouth.

"Many of these men and women's lives are (already) destroyed by PTSD when they take the PTSD pill," said Raskind.

One will never know if the PTSD pill could have changed Street's life. But for a mother about to say goodbye to her daughter, there is comfort in knowing it will save other service members and their families.

The VA is so impressed with Prazosin that the VA facility in Seattle received a grant for a three-year study. The Department of Defense is also currently funding a Prazosin study at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.