WHO Says Ketamine Should Not Be Placed Under International Control

On December 8, 2015, an expert panel recommended that the World Health Organization (WHO) not place international drug controls on ketamine. The panel concluded that “ketamine abuse does not pose a global public health threat, while controlling it could limit access to the only anesthetic and pain killer available in large areas of the developing world.” Ketamine is also an important veterinary anesthetic. WHO will forward this recommendation to its Commission on Narcotic Drugs for a final decision in March 2016.

The recommendation was prompted by a Chinese request to restrict ketamine’s availability due to its potential use as a recreational drug. China first proposed that ketamine be classified as a Schedule I drug, the most restrictive classification. In March 2015, China modified its request, asking only that ketamine be regulated under Schedule IV. “Placing substances under international control can often limit access to them for medical purposes,” explained 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,” he said.

On October 14, 2015, the APS submitted a position statement urging that WHO reject a change in the international regulation of ketamine. The APS statement was submitted in response to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration request for public comment on the abuse potential and medical usefulness of ketamine. The FDA used the comments it received to develop a recommendation on ketamine and nine other drug substances for WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence.

The APS emphasized that ketamine is a vital anesthetic used in veterinary and human medicine, as well as in animal research. APS also noted that the U.S. already regulates ketamine under the Controlled Substances Act.

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