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Ketamine Seizures Up Dramatically as Drug's Legal Use Soars

With the psychedelic drug ketamine on the rise for mental health treatment, U.S. authorities are seizing more and more illicit supplies of the drug, the Washington Post reports. The number of ketamine seizures by federal, state and local law enforcement in the United States increased from 55 in 2017 to 247 in 2022, while the total weight increased by more than 1,000% over that time, according to a letter published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry. Most of the ketamine was in powder form, which could raise the risk of being adulterated with deadly drugs such as fentanyl. Joseph Palamar, an associate professor at NYU Langone and the letter’s lead author, sees the trend of seizures as evidence of greater recreational demand for ketamine.

Ketamine is openly touted by celebrities as a breakthrough mental health medication. Clinics have sprung up across the country offering infusions of ketamine, while some doctors and telehealth start-ups have prescribed it in lozenge form for use at home. Other studies have indicated that recreational use and poisonings have increased. Ketamine has long been used as an anesthetic in hospitals and abused recreationally for its mind-altering properties. But it has emerged in recent years as a powerful, quick-acting antidote to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. A variant of ketamine called Spravato was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2019 to treat severe depression, but that came with a strict risk protocol to ensure patient safety. Many patients have been put off by hurdles to accessing Spravato, and physicians who see generic ketamine as safe and effective routinely prescribe it off-label. Some see Spravato as an example of a pharmaceutical company seeking financial gains by patenting a derivative of a compound known to be safe, and some who favor off-label ketamine are distrustful of Big Pharma.


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