Doctors are reporting a huge rise in the number of young people being treated in hospital for the hidden effects of party drug ketamine.
They say the number of young people developing bladder problems due to prolonged use of the drug has doubled in the past two years.
Ketamine is widely used as an anaesthetic for horses but has become popular among night*clubbers in the past five years owing to its hallucinogenic effects.
Known as K, Special K and ‘kiddie smack’, it is about half the price of cocaine and is categorised as a class C drug, which means that, legally, it is regarded less seriously than ecstasy or cannabis.
Adrian Joyce, president of the British Association of Urological Surgeons and consultant urologist at St James’s University Hospital in Leeds, said the toxic effect of ketamine was to markedly reduce bladder capacity.
The first question he now asks patients in their early 20s who need treatment for bladder problems is whether they have ever taken ketamine.
He said that until a few years ago it was rare for specialists to come across a case of a young person with bladder problems of this type. Now, he says, some ketamine users have needed the kind of bladder-stretching operations more commonly performed on people in their 60s.
Because specialists see only the most severe cases, Mr Joyce believes it is likely that many more young people are storing up serious problems for later in life.
He said: ‘The numbers are spiralling and for urologists to see people in this age group is very worrying indeed. The long-term consequences are serious, including the development of a small, contracted bladder and kidney failure – often irreversible – with the need for major reconstructive surgery to restore bladder capacity and to try to preserve kidney function.
‘This has major consequences for the rest of their lives and it is storing up a generation of problems.’
According to the 2009/10 British Crime Survey, 1.7 per cent of people aged between 16 and 24 in England and Wales used ketamine last year. Ken Checinski, of the drug treatment charity Addaction, said: ‘There is anecdotal evidence that ketamine is becoming more widespread, particularly in the economic downturn.’
In 2007, Professor David Nutt, who was last year sacked as chairman of the Government’s drug advisory panel, published research which ranked ketamine as more harmful than cannabis and ecstasy.
A Home Office spokesman said there were no plans to reclassify ketamine.
By Jo Macfarlane
2nd October 2010