Ketamine seizures have more than quadrupled in the US in just five years, a study has revealed.
Investigators in New York and Florida warned that the number of sedative-related illegal drug arrests rose 350 percent since 2017, from 55 to 247 in 2022 after analyzing official data.
During that time, the annual weight of street ketamine seized during raids increased from 127 pounds to 1,550 pounds.
The rise of 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.
The number of ketamine seizures in the US increased by 350 percent, official data showed
However, the total weight of the amount of ketamine seized has increased by 1,100 percent.
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 all-night raves.
But its popularity waned 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 surveys indicating that it is once again making a comeback on the party scene.
The easing of prescribing practices during the covid pandemic has also allowed for pop-up clinics that prescribe the drug off-label to treat mental health issues.
Although seizures have increased, they are still a long way from the records set in the early 2000s. The Drug Enforcement Agency says 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 figures on seizures of drugs, including ketamine, across the United States.
A total of 873 ketamine seizures were recorded between 2017 and 2022, weighing about 4,082 pounds.
Tennessee had the largest number of seizures (130 total) and also the largest weight of ketamine seized (1,860 pounds).
By number, Florida ranked second with 113 recorded seizures and California third with 73 seizures.
However, by weight, Pennsylvania had the second highest number with 340 pounds seized and New York had third with 71.8 pounds.
The scientists said, however, that this did not mean the drugs were being used more frequently in these states, as this might not be their final destination.
In the paper, the scientists said the rise was being driven by more people using the drug at raves, surveys show.
There was also a suggestion that it was because drug agencies were being more vigilant.
Dr. Joseph Palamar, a population health expert who led the study, said: “This dramatic increase in ketamine seizures by law enforcement may be indicative of an increase in non-medical and recreational use.” .
“Unlike illegal ketamine years ago, most illegally obtained ketamine today is not pharmaceutical grade and is sold in powdered form, which can 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 US could be tainted with fentanyl, just as it is now showing up in heroin and cocaine.
He also warned that the medical and media promotion of prescription ketamine in recent years is driving its use and availability on the black market.
Dr. Palamar hopes the latest findings will better inform harm reduction and prevention strategies to protect the public from further exposure to illegal ketamine and the potential adverse effects of use.
The study was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.