DENVER, CO - The House Judiciary Committee today passed legislation to prohibit the term “excited delirium” from being used in law enforcement and other first responder training or incident reports, or listed as a cause of death on a death certificate.
“When law enforcement is engaging with someone they identify as being in a state of excited delirium, it can escalate an interaction and lead to devastating outcomes, especially for people experiencing a mental health crisis,” said Rep. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder. “Despite widespread skepticism among medical professionals about the validity of this diagnosis, it has been used to rationalize use of force. By prohibiting the use of this debunked diagnosis going forward, we can continue to focus on de-escalation strategies that lead to better outcomes for Coloradans.
“More than 50 percent of people who have died in the custody of law enforcement with an ‘excited delirium’ diagnosis are people of color,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver. “As in the case of Elijah McClain in Aurora, ‘excited delirium’ has been used to justify excessive force against people of color during police encounters. Elijah McClain should be alive today, and while our legislation can’t save his life, I hope it will help prevent other Coloradans from not surviving the encounters they have with law enforcement.”
HB24-1103, which passed by a vote of 8-3, would prohibit the term “excited delirium” from being used in law enforcement and other first responder training or incident reports, or listed as a cause of death on a death certificate. The bill would also bar the terms “excited delirium syndrome”, “hyperactive delirium”, “agitated delirium”, and “exhaustive mania”.
Earlier this year, a 9NEWS investigation tied more than 225 deaths across the U.S. to use of the term, including the death of Elijah McClain in Colorado. His death in 2019 gained national attention when paramedics injected him with a lethal amount of ketamine after believing he exhibited “excited delirium.” The paramedics and a police officer involved in the incident have since been convicted of criminally negligent homicide.
In December 2023, the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board unanimously voted to remove the term “excited delirium” from training documents. Organizations like the American Medical Association, the National Association of Medical Examiners, and the American College of Emergency Physicians have spoken out against the term. California passed legislation last year to ban the term from being used on a law enforcement officer’s incident report, on a death certificate or autopsy report, and in testimony in civil court.
Rep. Herod also sponsored a 2021 law that prohibits law enforcement from compelling, directing, or influencing a paramedic to administer ketamine. The law set forth strict requirements before a paramedic can administer ketamine in a prehospital setting.