Judiciary Sets Limits on Use of Ketamine

DENVER, CO– The House Judiciary Committee today approved Representatives Leslie Herod and Yadira Caraveo’s bill to define the appropriate use of ketamine in law enforcement interactions. The bill passed by a vote of 7-4.

“Elijah McClain should still be alive today, and he’s not the only one whose life has been taken by the misuse of ketamine at a scene with law enforcement,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver. “We can’t allow the prehospital use of these drugs to go unchecked, and I’m glad we were able to come to a solution that works for Colorado. I am so grateful for the brave testimony of Elijah McKnight and others who shared their stories today. Passing this bill will help keep people safe and ensure that people are treated humanely by law enforcement. It’s the right thing to do.” 

“As a physician, I know that ketamine can have devastating, even deadly, consequences if used incorrectly,” said Rep. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton. “We shouldn’t be using these drugs lightly, especially outside of a hospital setting where a patient’s weight, medical history, and other relevant factors are unknown. The bill we advanced today will make law enforcement interactions safer and hopefully prevent tragedies like the ones we heard about in committee today.”

HB21-1251 limits the use of ketamine to subdue an individual in pre-hospital settings. The federal government has scheduled ketamine as a controlled substance due to its associated risk factors, and emergency medical service providers, here referred to as ‘paramedics’ must seek waivers to administer ketamine since the drug is outside of their standard scope of practice. In one study, nearly a third of patients who received ketamine in a pre-hospital setting were eventually intubated, 16 times the rate of intubation when administered in an emergency department. Another study found that intubation was undertaken for 63% of patients who received ketamine in pre-hospital settings.

The bill prohibits law enforcement from directing a paramedic to chemically incapacitate someone by administering ketamine except in limited circumstances. A paramedic must weigh an individual to ensure accurate dosage and if that’s not possible, at least two people present at the scene must agree with their weight estimation. The paramedic must be trained in the administration of ketamine and must attempt to obtain verbal authorization from a medical director before administering it. Lastly, there must be equipment on site to immediately monitor the vital signs and provide urgent transport.

Among other changes, the bill requires a law enforcement officer to intervene and report to the POST board if they see another officer using ketamine on someone, which under the bill would constitute excessive use of force and could lead to permanent revocation of an officer’s POST certification if the incident results in death. Absent a justifiable medical emergency, a paramedic would be prohibited from using ketamine to sedate someone to aid in their arrest or restraint for alleged or suspected criminal conduct. 

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