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State health department announces review of ketamine waivers one year after Elijah McClain’s death

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says the review will begin immediately and last at least 12 weeks. When the review is complete, a report will be issued.

Dr. Roman Langston holds a vial of ketamine in his office at Vitalitas on May 14, 2019 in Littleton, Colorado. Vitalitas offers ketamine for psychiatric use. (Seth McConnell, Special to the Colorado Sun)
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Colorado’s health department will review the controversial waiver program that allows medics to administer the powerful tranquilizer ketamine in the field.

The review was announced Saturday, two days before the first anniversary of the encounter that preempted the death of Elijah McClain after an encounter with Aurora police.

McClain, 23, was given a dose of the powerful tranquilizer after he we was confronted on Aug. 24, 2019, by Aurora police officers responding to a report of someone wearing a mask and “looking sketchy.”

Lawyers representing his family contend he was given far too much ketamine for his body weight.

“Paramedics injected Elijah with a dose well beyond what a man Elijah’s size should receive,” a federal lawsuit filed by McClain’s family against the Aurora Police Department alleges.

McClain was given a dose of 500 milligrams of ketamine, according to the lawsuit.

The waiver program run by the state health department allows doctors to oversee agencies’ use of ketamine to respond to emergency situations outside of hospitals. The program has drawn safety concerns.

“I am calling for the immediate and thorough review of the state’s ketamine waiver program,” Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a written statement. “Our agency will work with medical experts to study the use of ketamine in the field– as well as the state’s oversight mechanisms– and produce a public report. Patient safety and program transparency are top priorities.”

MORE: Coloradans dosed with ketamine during police confrontations — like Elijah McClain was — want investigation 

CDPHE says the review will begin immediately and last at least 12 weeks. When the review is complete, a report will be issued.

A review committee will be created to investigate the waivers. It will be made up of CDPHE’s chief medical officer, EMS providers, pharmacists, doctors and others.

More than 100 fire and rescue agencies in Colorado are allowed to administer ketamine outside of hospitals. Over the past three years, 902 people were given doses of the drug for suspected “profound agitation” or “excited delirium,” condition where people lose control of their body function.

KUNC, the public radio station for northern Colorado, found that in 17% of the instances when the drug was used serious complications arose.

MORE: Medics in Colorado dosed 902 people with ketamine for “excited delirium” in 2.5 years, including Elijah McClain

McClain had committed no crime, but someone called 911 to report him as being suspicious as he walked home. He was wearing a ski mask.

Officers confronted McClain, placed him in a carotid hold — during which blood is cut off to someone’s brain — and then a responding paramedic gave him a dose of ketamine to calm him down.

Elijah McClain. (Via CBS4 Denver)

McClain suffered cardiac arrest and was declared brain dead. He died several days after the encounter.

McClain’s death has caused a national outrage. It is under investigation by federal prosecutors and the Colorado attorney general’s office. Aurora has also solicited an external review of McClain’s death.

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