Ketamine: The New Wonder Drug

Emergency nurses see a diverse population of patients requiring equally diverse treatments. But one dynamic drug seems to be a go-to treatment for more health care complaints than most.

Developed in the 1960s as a derivative of PCP, Ketamine seems to be the new wonder drug, and for good reason.

“Ketamine is a hot drug in the clinical setting as we are discovering the multitude of patients receiving a positive effect from its use and not as many adverse effects,” said Cindy Joseph, who presented the session “Willy Wonka and the Ketamine Factory” on Saturday.

Joseph drew from the storyline in the 1960s film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to highlight situations in which ketamine can be used.

The drug is becoming better understood, she said. And as it does, emergency nurses can safely use it in a multitude of patients and possibly avoid the side effects and poor outcomes from other treatments that are currently the standard, most notably the numerous opioid treatments that have contributed to a global health care crisis.

“From the trauma patient who needs airway management to the status epileptic who is refractory to other medications, ketamine can be an effective and even safer treatment than the traditional treatments we commonly use,” she said. “We have an opioid epidemic as well, and ketamine offers a way for us to still treat our patients but also fight a bigger issue facing our nation.”

Emergency nurses will benefit from a better understanding of this medication, Joseph said. If they can see how ketamine works and its many benefits, they will be more comfortable using it and provide a safer practice for patient care.

“I can’t stress it enough; this drug is an incredible drug for some patients,” she remarked.

The subject of ketamine was a hot topic in Pittsburgh last week, with two other sessions focusing on the medication. In “Pink Dragons & Purple Unicorns: Ketamine for analgesia, sedation, depression,” Texas ENA State Council President Steven Jewell covered the administration, dosing and monitoring of ketamine for sedation, pain management and major depressive disorder. Meanwhile, Darleen Williams and Baily Constantine focused on pharmacology and the appropriate uses of ketamine in the emergency department in their session, “Special K: Dissociating Fact from Fiction.”