As opioid abuse continues to make headlines across the nation, medical researchers are busy looking at different, safer ways to treat patients who present with acute pain.

A recent study in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine compares the analgesic effect of the drug ketamine to opioids in an emergency room setting. The conclusion? Ketamine could be a useful, safe alternative in many cases.

It has long been accepted by the medical community that opioids, such as morphine, are an effective way to treat acute pain. However, with the growing opioid epidemic now reaching alarming levels in the U.S. and abroad, alternative treatments must be explored.

There are a number of reasons to consider alternative analgesics for the treatment of acute pain in the emergency room. They include:

  • The potential for addiction
  • Respiratory depression (particularly in older patients)
  • Patients with certain cardiovascular issues are not good candidates
  • Patients with seizure disorders are not good candidates
  • Patients with substance use disorders are not good candidates

Most medical professionals agree that replacing opioids entirely is not necessary, but having other options available will be useful and will help reduce their overall usage.

About Ketamine

Although ketamine has become somewhat infamous for its use as a recreational drug, it cannot be disputed that it is an effective anesthetic. Ketamine has been used in medical settings since its initial approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) way back in 1970.

In the decades that have passed, ketamine has also been trialed for use in the treatment of other conditions, including depression, addiction, and even migraine headaches.

Despite ketamine's somewhat shady reputation, it is effective, relatively safe, and well-tolerated in most cases.

It is worth mentioning, however, that possible psychological effects can be disturbing for some patients. But perhaps most important to note; ketamine is not particularly addictive and does not cause respiratory depression in patients.

"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," said senior study author Dr. Evan Schwarz.

Specific findings on the study mentioned were published in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine.