Ketamine users as young as 20 are being condemned to a “lifetime sentence” after having their bladders removed due to heavy consumption of the party drug, the Government’s chief drugs tsar has warned.
A new phenomenon of users taking “grand quantities” of the drug every day has revealed a “completely unexpected harm” to bladders due to ketamine addiction, Professor Les Iversen, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), said.
Mr Iversen would not comment on whether the drug, also known as Special K, should be upgraded from Class C, but gave strong indications that tougher controls were to be recommended to the Home Secretary.
Originally designed as an anaesthetic and tranquilliser, often used on horses during veterinary surgery, ketamine was banned as a recreational drug in 2006. There are an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 users of ketamine in England and Wales.
Addressing an open meeting of the ACMD, Mr Iversen said: “The example of bladder toxicity is a completely unexpected harm associated with a long term use of a drug which is normally used once or twice.
“For an anaesthetic, you don’t take it every day, you take it once for your operation. For pain-relieving effects of ketamine are usually very short-term use.
“Now we see a completely new phenomenon when people take grand quantities of the drug every day, seven days a week.”
Describing images of bladder surgery presented to the committee, he said: “This is a lifetime sentence for young users or any users. It’s surely the basis of a strong harm-reduction message.”
He added: “Our recommendation is still in discussion.”
Asked if the drug will be reclassified, Mr Iversen said: “We can’t discuss that because we haven’t decided yet. We haven’t told the Home Secretary either yet so just be patient.
“We’re all aware that ketamine is a more harmful drug than we had thought a few years ago.”
However, in addition to recommending a class, the ACMD is asked to recommend how carefully pharmacies should control the drug.
Ketamine is currently listed as “schedule four” among pharmacies, which means rather little control, whereas veterinary practices already treat it as a category two drug,
Mr Iversen said this means the drug must be “kept in safe custody” and a proper register of how it is “doled out”.
He added: “We can use more stringent scheduling to reduce the danger of diversion from proper use to improper use.”
ACMD member Dr Paul Dargan, consultant physician and clinical toxicologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, is preparing a report for the Home Secretary to be released shortly.
He said: “The main area where there’s significant evidence is around bladder toxicity. There is clear evidence of significant bladder toxicity in those who are regular high dose, dependent ketamine users with potential severe and disabling symptoms.
“Significant pain is often a feature which may lead users to take higher doses of ketamine to treat their pain, and therefore a vicious cycle is developing of pain leading to more ketamine use, leading to more bladder damage, passing blood in the urine, having to go to the toilet frequently and having incontinence.”
He added: “Those who have severe bladder symptoms may require significant and life-changing surgery that can include removing the bladder and ending up with a bag to pass urine into, or diversion of the urine into the bowel. Clearly that’s a significant thing for a user to have to end up with.”
Dr Dargan said users across the age-spectrum are having bladders removed, including people in their “20s, 30s, 40s and 50s”
Courtesy of Press Association
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