Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
The family of an Albuquerque man who died by suicide has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a local ketamine infusion clinic, claiming the clinic’s negligence in administering the controversial treatment contributed to his psychosis.
The complaint, filed in 2nd Judicial District Court in January, states Gabriel Saenz was a patient at the Injection and Infusion Clinic of Albuquerque who before his 2017 death was receiving ketamine infusion therapy to deal with chronic migraines. The treatment involves patients receiving small doses of ketamine, an anesthetic drug.
After Saenz received four four-hour ketamine treatments over the course of nine days, the complaint alleges he “stabbed himself multiple times, inhaled combustible fuel, and set himself on fire” two days after the final treatment took place. Saenz ultimately died from the injuries.
Members of his family are seeking unspecified damages from the clinic and its founder, Jason Duprat,, claiming the clinic didn’t properly screen Saenz for mental health indicators and failed to check up on him after each treatment.
“Defendants breached the applicable standards of care … and used methods and approaches that were outside the realm of medical practice reasonably contemplated and employed by other healthcare practitioners,” the complaint states.
Katherine Devine, who assumed ownership of the clinic after the events of the complaint, denied the allegations in an interview with the Journal, arguing she hadn’t heard of a case where ketamine, which has a short half-life for patients, has caused psychosis 48 hours later.
“Obviously, this case is quite sensational, and there are a lot of other factors involved,” Devine said.
She added that the clinic, now incorporated under a different name, is working to remove itself from the lawsuit.
Ketamine has a wide variety of uses, some legal and some not. The drug was created in the 1960s as a general anesthetic that could be administered on battlefields, according to Dr. Robert Meisner, medical director of the Ketamine Service in the Psychiatric Neurotherapeutics Program at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts.
More recently, ketamine has gained popularity as an anti-depressant. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t recognize the drug as an anti-depressant, Meisner said laboratory testing from institutions like Yale University and the National Institutes of Health has been promising, and the peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA published a consensus statement noting that increasing evidence supports the idea that ketamine has anti-depressant properties.
Meisner added that ketamine operates differently than competitors like Prozac and Zoloft, and has the potential to open up new areas of research.
“The discovery that ketamine can be useful as an anti-depressant … is a door toward a new understanding,” Meisner said.
However, Meisner declined to comment on ketamine’s potential use in mitigating migraines, which Saenz was seeking to relieve. The clinic’s website advertises intravenous ketamine infusions among other migraine treatments, referring to its treatment program as “painless, non-invasive and virtually side effect-free.”
While Meisner did not comment on the specifics of the case, he said some private clinics have strayed from medical evidence in areas like determining proper dosages. He acknowledged that there’s ongoing work on when and how to use ketamine effectively and cautioned against treating it as a cure-all.
“This isn’t just some magic bullet,” Meisner said.