Deaths Resulting from Ketamine Injection Rare, Study Indicates

FILE - In this July 25, 2018, file photo, is a vial of ketamine, which is normally stored in a locked cabinet, in Chicago.
FILE - In this July 25, 2018, file photo, is a vial of ketamine, which is normally stored in a locked cabinet, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford, File)

Patient death resulting from out-of-hospital ketamine administration is exceedingly rare, according to a new study released today.

The study, published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, looked at consecutive occurrences of out-of-hospital ketamine administration reported to ESO in 2019. The authors found that out of 11,291 patients administered the drug, ketamine “could not be ruled out as a contributing factor in 8 deaths.”

That represents 0.07% of those who received ketamine during that timeframe, according to the study.

The study is called “Out-of-Hospital Ketamine: Indications for Use, Patient Outcomes, and Associated Mortality.”

“The ketamine conversation has reached a national, mainstream audience,” said ESO Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brent Myers. “We felt it imperative to look at the full range of ketamine use and impact through an objective, data-driven lens to understand the effect of the medication on patients in both the prehospital setting and, to the extent we have data, through hospital outcome.”  

“ESO has brought forth a large and robust data set that provides clarity on the safety of ketamine used in the field for behavioral emergencies when administered by providers overseen by EMS physicians,” said NAEMSP President Dr. Michael Levy. “NAEMSP, the largest organization representing EMS physicians and other professional EMS providers, thanks ESO for providing these data to help support our best practice model of EMS.”

“Our key mission is to help improve the health and safety of our communities through the power of data,” added Dr. Myers. “We hope the data from this research help contribute to a meaningful and rational conversation about the use of ketamine by EMS providers across the country as we explore and examine tools to help first responders keep patients and themselves safe.”  

Ketamine has been in the national spotlight since the death of Colorado’s Elijah McClain, who was injected with a dosage appropriate for someone weighing 200 pounds. He weighed 143 pounds. Colorado is now trying to limit first responders’ use of ketamine and other chemical restraints.


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