WHO Recommends against International Control of Ketamine
For the fourth time since 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) today recommended that ketamine should not be placed under international control after review of the latest evidence by the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence. The Committee concluded that ketamine abuse does not pose a global public health threat, while controlling it could limit access to the only anaesthetic and pain killer available in large areas of the developing world.
“The medical benefits of ketamine far outweigh potential harm from recreational use,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, Assistant-Director General for Health Systems and Innovation at WHO. “Controlling ketamine internationally could limit access to essential and emergency surgery, which would constitute a public health crisis in countries where no affordable alternatives exist.”
Ketamine is an anaesthetic used in surgical and diagnostic procedures, it is often the only anaesthetic agent available in most developing countries and is also used for pain management. In 1985, ketamine was placed on the WHO Essential Medicines List and was recently described as ‘for sedation of both children and adults … perhaps the most widely used agent in the world’[i]. Ketamine has a good safety profile and is easy to use, especially in under-resourced health systems and emergency settings where clinical conditions and medical equipment are generally not available. In recent years ketamine has also been used recreationally, which has prompted moves to control the substance under international law. On each of these occasions - in 2006, 2012, 2014 and this year – the WHO Committee has recommended against scheduling. This and other recommendations of the Expert Committee will be conveyed to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs for its final decisions in March 2016.
“We have found that placing substances under international control can often limit access to them for medical purposes,” said Kees De Joncheere, WHO Director for Essential Medicines and Health Products. “Morphine is a case in point: even though it is inexpensive and one of the best substances available for pain management, in most countries availability and use are limited due to excessive regulation.”
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