Is Ketamine a Viable Substitute for Morphine for Acute Pain?

Gloved hand holding an IV bag.

Going to the emergency room for acute pain can be nerve-wracking for anyone, but it is even more stressful for people with an opioid use disorder.

Morphine is typically the first medication given to treat severe pain, but this could trigger a recurence of substance use for those who have misused opioids previously. Emergency room personnel do not want to cause these problems for patients and want to avoid using strong opioids when possible.

Some emergency rooms have started to give low-dose ketamine to patients who have opioid use disorders as an alternative to morphine, but information about the safety and effectiveness of this practice had not been studied previously.

A 2018 study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine has shed light on the use of ketamine in emergency rooms and whether this practice could help those with morphine addiction and other opioid use disorders.

In the study, ketamine use was as effective as morphine after 30 minutes in treating acute pain in emergency room situations. The study did not examine whether morphine was needed later for effective pain treatment.

Ketamine is regarded as less addictive than morphine and other opioids, even though it has been shown to activate opioid receptors in the brain similarly to the way opioids do.

Safety of Ketamine Use

The study also shed light on the safety of using ketamine for pain relief. It found no severe adverse events related to using ketamine in the emergency room, but a more than three times higher incidence of non-severe adverse effects. About 15 percent of patients given ketamine experienced one or more of the following: agitation, hallucinations, dysphoria or confusion.

Medical doctor and nurse helping a patient

Morphine can cause respiratory depression. Morphine works by slowing down the body’s systems, but if it suppresses breathing too much, it can be dangerous or even fatal. In the study, ketamine did not prove to be a risk for respiratory depression.

Ketamine has been commonly used to treat severe depression, and it is effective for this purpose. The new study shows that it can also be effective for treating pain in emergency situations. The drug can also provide an alternative for patients who have a history of opioid misuse, certain heart problems or a history of seizures.

Many medications that are used to treat common ailments can be addictive when misused, used at higher doses than prescribed or used over a long period of time. If you need help to overcome a substance use disorder, addiction treatment programs are available. Contact The Recovery Village Palmer Lake to find out how treatment can help you heal.

Is Ketamine a Viable Substitute for Morphine for Acute Pain?
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