Ketamine seizures in the United States have more than doubled in only five years, according to a new research.
After studying official statistics, researchers in New York and Florida cautioned that the number of illicit drug seizures containing the tranquilizer has increased 350% during 2017, from 55 to 247 in 2022.
During that time, the yearly weight of street ketamine collected during arrests increased from 127 pounds to 1,550 pounds.
The rise of ketamine on the street comes as the drug begins to build a reputation as a powerful treatment for mental health and trauma. Clinics across the country are offering it as an off-label treatment for depression, anxiety — and even improving relationships.
Ketamine seizures in the US are up 350 percent, official data showed
However, the total weight 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 used at late-night raves.
But its popularity declined 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 seeing a return, with surveys indicating it is once again trickling into the party scene.
The easing of prescribing practices during the Covid pandemic has also allowed pop-up clinics to emerge that prescribe the drug off-label to treat mental health issues.
While seizures have risen, they are still a long way from early 2000s records. The Drug Enforcement Agency says it seized as many as 7 million units of ketamine dosage in 2001 alone.
For the study, scientists led by NYU’s Langone Health analyzed data from the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, which collects figures on drug seizures, including ketamine, in the US.
Between 2017 and 2022, a total of 873 ketamine seizures were recorded, weighing approximately 4,082 pounds.
Tennessee had the most recorded seizures (130 total) as well as the largest weight of ketamine seized (1,860 lbs).
In number, Florida was second with 113 seizures recorded and California was third with 73 seizures.
By weight, however, Pennsylvania had the second highest loot count at 340 pounds and New York had third at 71.8 pounds.
However, the scientists said this did not mean that the drugs were used more often in these states, as this may not be their final destination.
In the paper, scientists said the uptick was driven by more people taking the drug at raves, as surveys show.
There was also a suggestion that it was because drug enforcement agencies were more vigilant.
Dr. Joseph Palamar, a public health expert who led the study, said: ‘This dramatic increase in ketamine seizures by law enforcement may indicate increasing non-medical and recreational use.
“Unlike illicit ketamine years ago, most illicitly obtained ketamine today is not pharmaceutical grade and is sold in powder form, which may increase the risk of it containing other drugs, such as fentanyl.
“Accidental exposure to fentanyl can lead to an overdose.”
He says there are fears that any illegal powder in the US could be contaminated with fentanyl, just as it is now showing up in heroin and cocaine.
He also warned that the media and medical promotion of prescription ketamine in recent years has fueled its use and availability on the black market.
Dr. Palamar hopes the latest findings will provide better information for prevention and harm reduction strategies to protect the public from increased exposure to illicit ketamine and potential adverse effects of use.
The research has been published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.