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Int J Drug Policy. 2010 Jul;21(4):306-14. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2010.01.007. Epub 2010 Feb 6.

Longitudinal trajectories of ketamine use among young injection drug users.

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School of Public Health, Department of Community Health and Prevention, Drexel University, 1505 Race Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102, USA.



Ketamine is a dissociative anaesthetic that became increasingly popular in the club and rave scene in the 1980s and 1990s. Reports surfaced in the late 1990s indicating that ketamine was being injected in several U.S. cities by young injection drug users (IDUs). Since all studies on ketamine injection were cross-sectional, a longitudinal study was undertaken in 2005 to determine: characteristics of young IDUs who continue to inject ketamine; frequency of ketamine injection over an extended time period; risks associated with ongoing ketamine injection; and environmental factors that impact patterns of ketamine use.


Young IDUs aged 16-29 with a history of injecting ketamine (n=101) were recruited from public locations in Los Angeles and followed during a 2-year longitudinal study. A semi-structured instrument captured quantitative and qualitative data on patterns of ketamine injection and other drug use. A statistical model sorted IDUs who completed three or more interviews (n=66) into three groups based upon patterns of ketamine injection at baseline and follow-up. Qualitative analysis focused on detailed case studies within each group.


IDUs recruited at baseline were typically in their early 20s, male, heterosexual, white, and homeless. Longitudinal injection trajectories included: "Moderates," who injected ketamine several times per year (n=5); "Occasionals," who injected ketamine approximately once per year (n=21); and "Abstainers," who did not inject any ketamine during follow-up (n=40). Findings suggest that ketamine is infrequently injected compared to other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Most IDUs who begin injecting ketamine will stop or curb use due to: negative or ambivalent experiences associated with ketamine; an inability to find the drug due to declining supply; or maturing out of injecting drugs more generally.


Reducing ketamine injection among young IDUs may best be accomplished by targeting particular groups of IDUs identified in this study, such as homeless youth and homeless travellers.

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