Ketamine seizures have more than quadrupled in the United States in just five years, a study has found.
Researchers in New York and Florida have warned that the number of illegal drug seizures involving the sedative has increased by 350% since 2017, from 55 to 247 in 2022 after analyzing official data.
During this period, the annual weight of street ketamine seized during busts increased from 127 pounds to 1,550 pounds.
The rise in street ketamine comes as the drug begins to gain a reputation as a powerful treatment for mental health issues and trauma. Clinics across the country offer it as an off-label treatment for depression, anxiety — and even relationship enhancement.
US ketamine seizures jump 350%, official data shows
The total weight of the amount of ketamine seized jumped 1,100%, but
Ketamine, also known as Special K, Ket, or Kit Kat, was popular as a party drug in the late 1990s, where it was commonly dosed at nighttime raves.
But its popularity plummeted in the 2000s when it became a Schedule III drug and concerns were raised about side effects, including hallucinations and, in rare cases, seizures.
However, the drug is now making a comeback, with polls indicating it is once again returning to the party scene.
The relaxation of prescribing practices during the Covid pandemic has also allowed the emergence of pop-up clinics that prescribe the drug off-label to treat mental health issues.
Although seizures are on the rise, they are still a far cry from the records set in the early 2000s. The Drug Enforcement Agency said it seized up to 7 million dosage units of ketamine in 2001 alone.
For the study, scientists led by NYU Langone Health analyzed data from the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, which collects numbers on seizures of drugs, including ketamine, in the United States.
A total of 873 seizures of ketamine were recorded between 2017 and 2022, which weighed some 4,082 pounds.
Tennessee recorded the highest number of seizures (130 total) and also the highest weight of ketamine seized (1,860 pounds).
By number, Florida was second with 113 foreclosures recorded and California was third with 73 foreclosures.
By weight, however, Pennsylvania had the second-most seizures at 340 pounds and New York had third at 71.8 pounds.
The scientists said, however, that this did not mean that the drugs were used more often in these states – as that may not have been their final destination.
In the article, the scientists said the rise was due to more people using drugs at raves, as surveys show.
It was also suggested that it was because drug enforcement agencies were more vigilant.
Dr Joseph Palamar, a population health expert who led the study, said: “This dramatic increase in law enforcement seizures of ketamine may be a sign of growing non-medical and recreational use. .
“Unlike the illegal ketamine of years ago, most ketamine obtained illegally today is not pharmaceutical grade and is sold in powder form, which may increase the risk that it contains other drugs such as fentanyl.”
“Unintentional exposure to fentanyl can lead to an overdose.”
He says the fear is that any illegal powder in the United States could be contaminated with fentanyl, just as it is now found in heroin and cocaine.
He also warned that the media and medical promotion of prescription ketamine in recent years is fueling black market use and availability.
Dr. Palamar hopes the latest findings will better inform prevention and harm reduction strategies to protect the public from increased exposure to illegal ketamine and possible adverse effects of its use.
The study was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.