DrugScope: More people taking ketamine and in higher doses

A DrugScope investigation has found that ketamine is being taken by more people and in higher doses, despite being made illegal three years ago.


In January 2006, the Home Office made ketamine a Class C drug, on a par with anabolic steroids. But an investigation published in the charity’s magazine, Druglink, drawing on information from the police, drugs projects and researchers, has found evidence of increased and more dangerous use.


While the drug, which has stimulant and hallucinogenic properties, has traditionally been seen as a ‘club drug’, the number of cases of people injecting it is on the up, DrugScope found.


Neil Brooks, manager of Nottingham drug project Chill Out Sound Support, told Community Care it was encountering this trend as well as increased use overall of the drug.


Sixth most harmful drug


Ketamine was rated as the sixth most harmful drug in a 2007 study headed by Professor David Nutt of Bristol University, now chair of the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.


The NHS administers the drug in small doses as a medical anaesthetic and, very occasionally, as a pain killer. However, DrugScope said the high doses typical of illegal ketamine use risk serious injury, unconsciousness and potential respiratory collapse or heart failure.


DrugScope chief executive Martin Barnes said: “These trends are extremely concerning. Ketamine has become increasingly common on the club scene but there is worrying evidence that people are experimenting with larger amounts. Ketamine’s harm increases considerably at high doses.”


Mounting evidence of increased use


The DrugScope investigation follows mounting evidence of the increased use of ketamine.


The Independent Drugs Monitoring Unit has reported that the number of people using the drug in the UK rose from 60-65,000 between 1998 and 2000 to 85-90,000 in 2007.


And a DrugScope report in 2008 found ketamine had become a major street drug in eight of fifteen UK towns and cities surveyed and nine out of twenty areas reported increases in use, while it also identified a fall in the average price of a gram from £28 to £20.


No plans to reclassify


A Home Office spokesperson said the advisory council continued to monitor the situation with respect to ketamine but there were no plans to reclassify the drug.


Its status as a Class C drug means dealers can be imprisoned for up to 14 years and face an unlimited fine, while users can face two years in jail and a fine.


According to the a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology last year, there were 23 deaths in the UK between 1993 and 2006 which can be attributed to ketamine.


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