Ketamine in the ER: A Safer Pain Reliever than Opioids?

The Recovery Village RidgefieldSubstance Abuse

Man holding his back in pain

Medical News Today suggests that, while opioids are an effective way to deal with pain, their potentially addictive nature is wreaking havoc around Washington State and the rest of the nation. This makes exploring other non-opioid pain relief an acute necessity for researchers and other clinical teams.

It turns out that ketamine, which is commonly used to treat migraines and depression, appears to be a viable non-opioid pain relief remedy that doctors can explore in the ER or in an inpatient setting.

This article discusses research into the use of ketamine for acute pain in ER settings. What does the research reveal as to its effectiveness? What are the positive and negative effects of ketamine in place of opioid medications? What is the potential for ketamine to become the go-to medication for non-opioid pain management?

Ketamine: Non-Opioid Pain Relief

Opioids are still the most commonly prescribed medications for pain relief used in emergency rooms across the country. Over time, it has become apparent how highly addictive these medications are, making every prescription similar to playing Russian roulette. It appears that ketamine offers non-opioid pain relief as an alternative to these addictive drugs. However, ketamine brings side effects and is a medication that is also currently being misused as a recreational drug.

Man holding his knee in pain

Ketamine is a viable alternative to opioids for short-term pain relief.

To date, there has been minimal research as to whether ketamine is a viable non-opioid pain relief medication. However, recent work by the Washington University School of Medicine sought to determine if ketamine is an effective alternative to opioids in the ER.

Researchers studied more than 200 patients to determine outcomes tied to pain relief with ketamine. They found that the drug was “not inferior to morphine” but lacked the severe side effects, including respiratory depression and addiction. Researchers stated:

“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.”

Ketamine is currently commonly used as an anesthetic to “induce a loss of consciousness and relieve pain,” according to Medical News Today. It is similar in make-up to phencyclidine (PCP), and it causes a feeling of disconnection and disorientation. Nitrous oxide, more commonly called laughing gas, is part of the same type of dissociative anesthetics commonly prescribed by physicians. It is widely used in veterinary medicine to anesthetize animals. It is used off-label to treat depression, but it is primarily used as an effective anesthetic in medicine today.

It should also be noted that ketamine is sometimes used improperly for its hallucinatory and dissociative effects.

Medical News Today says the most common uses of ketamine in medicine today include:

  • Skin grafts
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Orthopedic procedures
  • Minor surgical procedures
  • Dental procedures

Ketamine is also commonly prescribed to treat seizures and epilepsy. Generally, in a lower dosage, ketamine can relieve pain and lacks the severely addictive qualities of opioids such as Vicodin, Dilaudid, Codeine, or Demerol. It should also be noted that ketamine, like opioids, is not intended for long-term pain relief.

If treatment for pain has led you to the misuse of opioids and addiction, do not despair. There are many Washington State addiction resources that you can use to help you regain control of your life. Contact us today to learn more about these resources and begin your journey to better health and happier life now.