Drug Abuse as an Externality

In the past few months the Economist and Time Magazine have reported that there have been steps taken to develop Ketamine as an antidepressant. This drug is a schedule III controlled substance in the US that is usually used to start and maintain anesthesia. It was first produced in the 1960s for this use, but soon began to run through the “club scene” in the US, Hong Kong, and Canada as a recreational drug. In 2009 the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime recorded 6.9 tons of Ketamine being pushed through the illegal drug market. The drug could be helpful in the fight against depression, but what could be the risks of using Ketamine as a pharmaceutical drug?

Recent studies have shown that the drug could lessen thoughts about suicide amongst people struggling with depression. Dr. Dawn Ionescu, a staff psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital conducted a small study and found that small doses of ketamine helped 15 individual with their suicidal thoughts. But doctors are hesitant to prescribe this drug because it has properties of mental and physical addiction. The company, Johnson & Johnson hopes to produce a version of the drug that rids of the addictive side effects. But until then it seems that giving out Ketamine, even in small doses, could lead to drug abuse similar to abuse of painkillers.

Opioid abuse has led many individuals to develop a strong addiction as they start with prescribed painkillers and turn to heroin after they can’t find a legal opiate. This problem is increasing as government and state officials are starting to place more regulation on the amount of prescription opioids being given out to patients. It is evident that there are major repercussions for using highly addictive drugs in a pharmaceutical setting. How likely is the situation that Ketamine abuse increases if it starts to be prescribed to people with depression?  To economists this outcome is simply a negative externality of these drugs being used for medical purposes. Like every other decision, individuals need to ask themselves: do these costs of outweigh the benefits?

2 Replies to “Drug Abuse as an Externality”

  1. You are absolutely correct in questioning whether the cost outweighs the benefit. In my opinion, it does not, nor does producing another psychoactive compound solve an ever-growing problem – drug and alcohol abuse. Prescription drugs have been glamorized. to me, that is very troublesome, particularly with teen and young adults.

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