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Thai boys trapped in cave were given ketamine before their risky rescue

Key Points
  • Rescuers gave the 12 boys trapped in a Thai cave ketamine to help protect them from hypothermia.
  • The medical team described their efforts in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.
  • Ketamine is an anesthetic that has soothing effects.
A screen grab shows boys rescued from the Thai cave wearing mask and resting in a hospital in Chiang Rai, Thailand from a July 11, 2018. 
Source: Government Public Relations Department (PRD)

Twelve boys trapped in a Thai cave were given ketamine to help protect them from hypothermia during the harrowing rescue, the effort's medical team wrote in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Last summer, the boys and their soccer coach were exploring Thailand's Tham Luang cave complex when a downpour flooded the tunnels. British divers found the Wild Boars soccer team more than a week after they were reported missing. Rescuers placed the boys on stretchers and swam them out of the narrow cave.

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The boys' wet suits fit poorly and the water was cold, the medical team said in its letter to the Journal, published online Wednesday. Rescuers wrote that oxygen levels were falling and they needed to keep the boys from developing hypothermia, so they gave them "unspecified doses" of ketamine and a face mask filled with oxygen.

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Ketamine is an anesthetic that has soothing effects. It also narrows blood vessels, which lessens shivering, and can prevent large dips in a person's core temperature, making it a "good choice" for patients at risk of hypothermia, the authors said.

Ketamine is often misused as a club drug, earning it the nickname "Special K." However, it is finding more clinical applications. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved Johnson & Johnson's esketamine, a nasal spray related to ketamine for treatment-resistant depression.

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