WHO recommends no changes to ketamine classification


Committee says drug poses no global public health threat worth possibly limiting access to the drug in areas of the developing world.

Getty ImagesThe World Health Organization (WHO) has rejected the reclassification of ketamine for the fourth time since 2006. According to a release by the organization, the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence concluded after its most recent review that ketamine abuse does not pose a global public health threat and that increased control over the drug could limit access to the “only anesthetic and painkiller available in large areas of the developing world.” Veterinarians can also rest easy knowing access to ketamine will not be changed.

Ketamine was placed on the WHO Essential Medicines List in 1985 and was described in a letter to the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence by the World Society of Intravenous Anesthesia in 2014 as the most widely used agent for sedation in world.

“The medical benefits of ketamine far outweigh potential harm from recreational use,” says Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director general for Health Systems and Innovation at WHO, in a release. “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.”

The ketamine review was prompted by a Chinese proposal to the United Nations that ketamine be reclassified as a schedule 1 drug and placed under international control. The committee's recommendation on ketamine and other recommendations of the committee will be conveyed to the WHO's Commission on Narcotic Drugs for its final decisions in March 2016.

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