UN restrictions on narcotic ketamine would impede veterinary practices, trade group argues

Ketamine, the narcotic known to many addicts as Special K, is in the crosshairs of the United Nations, which was planning a hearing to discuss whether it should be internationally regulated as a schedule I substance, right along with such forbidden drugs as LSD. Such strict regulation would be a problem for veterinarians, however, because they use ketamine as an anesthetic to treat both large and small animals.

So the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) spoke up, lodging loud protests to the U.N. It worked: The hearing on ketamine has been postponed so the U.N.'s Commission on Narcotic Drugs can gather more information.

AVMA's Beth Sabin

Ketamine is already regulated in the U.S. as a Schedule III narcotic--a designation that places strict controls on how it is prescribed and dispensed. If the U.N. were to classify it as a schedule I drug under international regulations, veterinarians might not be able to access it at all, according to a blog item posted by the AVMA's associate director for international and diversity initiatives, Beth Sabin, herself a veterinarian.

China made the initial proposal suggesting the U.N. classify ketamine as schedule I. If it were to be accepted, countries would have to report how much of the drug they're importing each year, and only government employees would be able to administer it, according to lawyers and health experts interviewed by The Guardian.

It's not just veterinarians who oppose the extra layer of restrictions. Ketamine is widely used by physicians in developing countries who perform surgeries such as caesarean sections and emergency procedures for trauma victims. "This would be an absolute disaster for low-resource countries, which depend on ketamine as a safe injectable anesthetic agent that can be used in many emergency situations," said Boston University professor Richard Laing in an interview with The Guardian.

The AVMA has long been an effective advocate for veterinarians. Last year, the organization scored a victory when it lobbied for changes to laws that were preventing vets from bringing certain controlled substances to farming sites. In response, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act, which made it legal for veterinarians who are registered with the DEA to travel with controlled substances. And just last month, the organization conducted its annual "Legislative Fly-in," bringing 66 students from 26 veterinary schools to Capitol Hill to discuss student loan debt with lawmakers.

The U.N. has not yet announced its plans for revisiting the ketamine proposal. But the AVMA vows it will keep an eye on the debate. "Working with our members and international colleagues, we will continue to monitor … future meeting agendas so that we are prepared to address this issue when it next arises," the association said in its statement. "The U.S. veterinary profession's voice needs to be heard."

- here's the AVMA blog item
- read more at The Guardian