China Wants to Ban Ketamine, World Health Organization Disagrees

By Victoria Kim 03/18/15

Despite being a major producer of the drug, China pushed for ketamine to be banned worldwide.

liquid ketamine.jpg
Wiki Commons

Looks like there won’t be a worldwide ban of ketamine after all. That was the goal of China, a major producer of the drug. They presented their case at this year’s session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), which took place on March 9-17 in Vienna, where representatives of more than 100 countries gather to discuss U.N. drug treaties.

Ketamine first hit the west as a horse tranquilizer, but is often used as a recreational drug, especially in club venues. Professor Zhimin Liu, vice director of the National Institute on Drug Dependence at Peking University who went to Vienna to present China’s case, said he is worried about the proliferation of recreational ketamine in Asia, Europe, and the United States. Liu argued that ketamine, which he called a “health hazard,” should be put under international control.

But some countries disagree. Representatives from Peru, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S. were among those who cited ketamine’s medical uses and the harmful implication of restricting the drug’s therapeutic uses by putting it under international control.

Many African countries and developing countries, who would be most affected by this decision, were not in Vienna to vote. They are not strongly represented at the annual session because they don’t have permanent diplomats in Vienna, a former high-ranking official in the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime told the BBC.

The simple anesthetic drug is used in much of Africa, where many reside in remote places, because it can be administered as a pill and does not require extra equipment or trained staff. Doctors argue that ketamine is an “essential medicine,” and not something the developing world can do without.

The commission has turned down proposals to bring ketamine under international control in the past. The World Health Organization (WHO), which makes a recommendation to the CND as to whether the substance in question should be scheduled or not, said that “reports of dependence in humans are rare” and that “tolerance may occur, but there is insufficient evidence to show that ketamine causes a withdrawal syndrome in humans.”

The WHO, which has placed ketamine on its list of essential medicines, said ultimately that ketamine should not be placed under international control at this time. “While the committee acknowledged the concerns raised by some countries and U.N. organizations, ketamine abuse currently does not appear to pose a sufficient public-health risk of global scale to warrant scheduling,” reads the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence report.

For countries with serious abuse problems, WHO said these countries “may decide to introduce or maintain control measures, but should ensure ready access to ketamine for surgery and anesthesia for human and veterinary care.”

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