By Stephen Beech via SWNS
Seizures of illicit party drug ketamine have soared by 349 percent in the United States in just five years, reveals new research.
The "dramatic" increase has sparked concerns about the potential dangers of rising recreational use of the illegal substance that was originally used as horse tranquilizer.
The total weight of ketamine seized in the U.S. increased from 127 pounds in 2017 to about 1,550 pounds in 2022, according to the study.
Ketamine has become increasingly popular among teenagers and young adults at dance clubs and raves because of its hallucinogenic effects.
American users refer to it as Kit Kat, Cat Valium, Jet K, Purple, Special K, Vitamin K or Super Acid.
Researchers found a 349 percent rise in seizures of illicit ketamine by drug enforcement throughout the United States from 2017 to 2022.
The study was led by the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and the National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) at the University of Florida.
The research team says that their findings, published in JAMA Psychiatry, suggest that it is more likely that people who use it recreationally may encounter an "adulterated" and potentially harmful version of the drug.
Study author Professor Joseph Palamar, of NYU Langone Health, said: “This dramatic rise in ketamine seizures by law enforcement may be indicative of rising nonmedical and recreational use.
“Unlike illegal ketamine years ago, most illegally obtained ketamine 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 overdose.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the American government eased prescribing practices for controlled substances so that more patients could use telemedicine and retain access to vital medications.
While many patients benefited, Palamar says the loosened restrictions also gave rise to an "industry" of pop-up clinics prescribing ketamine online and off-label for a range of mental health conditions, with little oversight of side effects.
He said: “Though the risk of overdose from ketamine alone is low, some people who use the drug report negative dissociative side effects, such as feeling dizzy or nauseous.”
Palamar, who has published extensively on the use of “club drugs” such as ketamine, ecstasy and GHB, warns that people who use ketamine recreationally should be concerned about more than the drug’s dissociative side effects.
He says the fear is that any illegal powder in the U.S. may be contaminated with fentanyl, just as it is now turning up in heroin and cocaine.
He also warned that media and medical promotion of prescription ketamine in recent years is fueling black-market use and availability.
The highest numbers of ketamine seizures were reported in Tennessee, Florida, and California.
But researchers say it is unclear if those states have the highest usage since the location of seizures does not necessarily reflect the final destination of the drug shipments.
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 from use.