State, local and national policy makers demand ketamine answers after Elijah McClain death

State

DENVER (KDVR) – State senators who sit on Colorado’s Senate Health and Human Services Committee said they could introduce legislation related to the use of the drug ketamine next session if they don’t gather enough information about the state’s policies that allowed a paramedic to sedate Elijah McClain with the drug before he died last August.

“I do have quite a bit of confidence that the system will make changes when needed, but if we don’t see those and see those quickly, yes, absolutely, this is something that could be addressed and should be addressed via legislation,” said state Sen. Jim Smallwood, a Republican who sits on the committee.

On Tuesday, the FOX31 Problem Solvers broke the story that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reopened an investigation into the use of ketamine prior to McClain’s death.

Smallwood said he is looking forward to the results of the investigation.

“I do think it’s appropriate to ask the question of, ‘Is this something that’s going to be reviewed on a larger scale?’ And then, ‘Are you going to be transparent in coming out to the state and really identifying the results of looking into this a little bit deeper?’” said Smallwood.

Faith Winter, a Democrat who serves as the committee’s vice chair, suggested the state review the waivers it grants to medical directors that enable medics to administer the drug to extremely agitated patients experiencing a condition called excited delirium.

“I think we definitely have to look at the use of ketamine in these situations,” said Winter.  “Are the people that have those waivers following protocol?”

Winter said it would also be important to review the training medical responders receive and to set a statewide standard.

“I think each jurisdiction has a different training on the use and the proper time to use ketamine,” she said. 

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), questioned U.S. Attorney General William Barr about the McClain case and the use of ketamine during a hearing this week. Bass asked if Barr would commit to directing the department “to evaluate the protocols around the use of ketamine, chokeholds and other methods used by federal law enforcement officials when making arrests or detaining subjects.” Barr said, “Absolutely.”

According to Colorado’s Ketamine Waiver Guidance, “EMS providers should not engage in restraining people for law enforcement purposes.”

Bass also asked whether Barr had any information about how often ketamine is administered to people of color. 

Colorado does not keep those statistics, but after FOX31 asked whether CDPHE would consider tracking that information, a spokesperson responded by saying, “Yes, the state is considering keeping these statistics.”

Locally, Anita Springsteen, who sits on the Lakewood City Council, said she planned to send a second letter to Gov. Jared Polis, demanding the state stop using the drug for “law enforcement purposes.” Her boyfriend, Jeremiah Axtell, received an injection earlier this year.

“My goal is to save our state from having the next Elijah McClain,” she said. “I think we’ve known for a while that this is a risk. He died almost a year ago. I don’t want to see another mother like Elijah McClain’s mother suffering over the death of their child.”

While a coroner referred to the 500 mg dose McClain received as “therapeutic,” the coroner could not rule out an adverse reaction to ketamine as having contributed to his death.

“I hope when they receive this letter that they treat it with the urgency that it deserves because each day that passes by that nobody acts on this or that it is pushed to the side or delayed or kept at the bottom of a pile — I believe — is another day we’re at risk of losing somebody’s life,” she said.

While emergency physicians have referred to the drug as a safe tool to help them when dealing with extremely combative patients, the American Society of Anesthesiologists First Vice President Randall Clark, who practices medicine in Colorado, said he sent a second letter to the CDPHE’s chief medical officer, asking whether the state planned to review its ketamine policies. 

“I think the state Department of Public Health and Environment needs to review all of these protocols. I think that the available evidence of these events suggests these protocols perhaps need to be tightened,” he said.

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