Colorado ketamine bill signed into law, limits police influence on sedative’s use

Local News

Ketamine. Credit: KDVR

DENVER (KDVR) — A new law limits a paramedic’s use of the sedative ketamine in Colorado and prohibits police officers from influencing the drug’s use on a person.

In Colorado, paramedics — not law enforcement — administer the drug to a patient, and they have used it to sedate agitated people during arrests.

The measure comes after the FOX31 Problem Solvers spent nearly two years investigating ketamine’s use in Colorado and found a handful of questionable cases, including the death of Elijah McClain.

Medics used ketamine to sedate McClain in a 2019 altercation with police, and he died in a hospital soon after. A coroner could not rule out that McClain may have suffered from an unexpected reaction to the drug but ruled the cause and manner of McClain’s death was undetermined.

Gov. Jared Polis signed House Bill 21-1251 on Tuesday. Polis did not hold a ceremony for the bill-signing, as he has done with some other recent pieces of legislation.

“I agree that chemical restraints, like ketamine, should only be used in true medical emergencies, and done so under the supervision of a trained medical professional,” Polis said in a statement on the bill’s signing.

“HB21-1251 is a good start as a review of the ambulance care system, and the relationship that law enforcement plays in these situations.  Following the release of CDPHE’s findings later this summer, the agency will conduct a robust stakeholder engagement process to improve consumer protections in the EMS system and develop other recommendations for consideration,” Polis said.

The bill adds new requirements on when a paramedic can administer ketamine outside of a hospital:

  • They must try to get a verbal order from a medical supervisor.
  • They must get an accurate estimation of the patient’s weight to ensure proper dosage.
  • Equipment must be on site to monitor their vital signs and provide urgent transport to a hospital.

Democratic Reps. Yadira Caraveo (Adams) and Leslie Herod (Denver), along with Democratic Sens. Rhonda Fields (Arapahoe) and Julie Gonzales (Denver), sponsored the bill.

“Today, we took a significant step forward in our state to improve policing and end the misuse of ketamine, which has had dangerous and deadly consequences for Coloradans,” Herod said in a statement. “No longer will law enforcement be able to direct paramedics to administer a potentially deadly drug, especially for a condition of ‘excited delirium,’ the diagnostic validity of which is disputed by medical professionals. I applaud Governor Polis’ support for this bill and for working to stop the misuse of chemical restraints in interactions with law enforcement.”

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