The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner's Office says the 54-year-old actor's death on October 28 was the result of the acute effects of ketamine — a drug used for sedation and off-label for depression treatment.
Late afternoon on October 28, actor Matthew Perry, who was most known for his role as Chandler Bing on the TV sitcom Friends, was found unresponsive in his hot tub. Paramedics pronounced the 54-year-old TV and film star dead soon after arriving at the scene.
Before long, rumors about the cause of Perry's death began to circulate. While authorities found no illicit drugs at the scene, Perry was known to have struggled with drug and alcohol misuse in the past, which some speculated played a role in his death. However, he had reportedly been clean for 19 months before he died.
Still, most information at the time of his death indicated Perry had drowned.
On December 15, the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner's Office released autopsy results, which revealed that Perry died from the acute effects of ketamine.
"Contributing factors in Mr. Perry's death include drowning, coronary artery disease, and the effects of buprenorphine (used to treat opioid use disorder). The manner of death is accident," the Examiner's Office said in a press release.
Reports indicate that the presence of high levels of ketamine found through toxicology testing likely caused Perry to become unconscious and drown. Perry's pre-existing coronary artery disease may have also intensified ketamine's effects on the heart.
Individuals who knew Perry said that he was undergoing ketamine infusion therapy. However, the medical examiner said ketamine levels in Perry's body were high, similar to levels used for general anesthesia, and his last ketamine infusion was 1 ½ weeks earlier. The examiner said ketamine levels would not be this high after that length of time, and it's unknown how this much of the drug got into Perry's system.
What are the dangers of ketamine?
Ketamine is a medication used for pain management and sedation during surgical procedures. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) considers it a Schedule III-controlled drug. However, recently, ketamine has seen an uptick in popularity as an experimental treatment for depression and anxiety. It's delivered through a nasal spray or intravenous (IV) infusion.
While ketamine has shown promise as an off-label treatment for depression, some researchers believe it's no more effective at treating the condition than a placebo.
Moreover, ketamine's rise in popularity as an experimental depression treatment has sparked FDA warnings about compounded ketamine products. In addition, when scientists investigated clinics that advertise ketamine depression treatment, they found that many made false claims about the drug's safety and effectiveness.
Ketamine also carries a risk of misuse because of its dissociative effects. The DEA says people who misuse ketamine do so by injection, mixing it with liquids, or smoking the powder.
The side effects of ketamine use include:
- Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)
- Lowered energy levels or sleepiness
Ketamine can also cause a person to become unconscious and experience an extremely slow respiratory rate. Losing consciousness while in a jacuzzi or hot tub can cause a person to drown, which is what medical examiners say likely happened to Perry.
- County of Los Angeles Medical Examiner. Cause and Manner of Death Determined for Matthew Langford Perry.
- DEA. Ketamine.