Could Ketamine Replace Opioids In The ER?

By Kelly Burch 07/27/18

A new study examined whether ketamine could work as an alternative to opioids for pain relief in an emergency room setting. 

medical team working on patients in ER

Ketamine could be a viable option for acute pain relief, working at least as well as morphine, according to a new medical review. 

“Ketamine appears to be a legitimate and safe alternative to opioids for treating acute pain in the emergency department. Emergency physicians can feel comfortable using it instead of opioids,” Dr. Evan Schwarz, senior study author, said according to Medical News Today

Schwarz led a team of researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis who reviewed the experience of 261 patients who were given only ketamine to treat their pain in the emergency room.

The researchers found that ketamine was as effective as morphine for pain relief. There were no severe adverse affects reported, although ketamine did have a higher instance of minor adverse effects. Overall, however, the study authors concluded that ketamine is an effective pain relief tool. 

“Ketamine is noninferior to morphine for the control of acute pain, indicating that ketamine can be considered as an alternative to opioids for ED short‐term pain control,” study authors wrote.

Ketamine, otherwise known as a party drug, was approved for medical use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1970. Since then it has been used as an anesthetic. It is also sometimes used in conjunction with opioids for pain relief. However, the new study indicates that low-dose ketamine can provide pain relief even when it is used alone. 

With more healthcare providers looking for alternative pain treatments that do not involve opioids, this is a promising finding. Ketamine is not addictive and does not cause respiratory depression, two conditions that are the main risk factors when using opioids to treat pain, particularly in older patients. 

The study looked at a relatively small number of patients. However, authors said that the findings indicate that more research is needed regarding using ketamine as a potentially safer pain-relief option for acute pain. 

“Opioids are commonly prescribed in the emergency department (ED) for the treatment of acute pain,” study authors wrote. “Analgesic alternatives are being explored in response to an epidemic of opioid misuse. Low‐dose ketamine (LDK) is one opioid alternative for the treatment of acute pain in the ED.”

Ketamine has been showing promise for treating a variety of conditions. Earlier this year, ketamine nasal spray was shown to quickly reduce suicidal ideation in patients being treated in the emergency room.   

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.