Recreational ketamine-related deaths notified to the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths, England, 1997-2019

John Martin Corkery, Wang-Chu Hung, Hugh Claridge, Christine Goodair, Caroline S. Copeland, Fabrizio Schifano

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Background: Ketamine is a phencyclidine derivative with dissociative anaesthetic properties. Increasing numbers of individuals in England take ketamine recreationally. Information on deaths arising from such use in England is presented. Methods: Cases were extracted on 31 January 2020 from the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths database, based on text searches of the cause of death, coroner’s verdict and positive toxicology results for the terms ‘ketamine’ or ‘norketamine’. Findings: During 1997–2005, there were <5 deaths p.a. in which ketamine was implicated. Numbers increased until 2009 (21), plateauing until 2016; thereafter, deaths have risen to about 30 p.a. Decedents’ characteristics (N = 283): male 84.1%, mean age 31.2 (SD 10.0) years, employed 56.5%, drug use history 79.6% and living with others 60.3%. Ketamine was detected with other substances in most cases. Main (74.6%) underlying cause of death was accidental poisoning. Ketamine may have impaired judgement in other cases. Conclusions: Although controlled, recreational ketamine use and related fatalities continue to increase. Consumers need to be more aware of the potentially fatal risks they face.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1324-1348
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
Issue number11
Early online date5 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


  • Ketamine
  • Deaths
  • England
  • Drug misuse
  • Recreational use
  • ketamine
  • recreational use
  • drug misuse
  • Original Papers


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