Colorado bill to restrict ketamine use outside of hospitals close to passing

By: - June 7, 2021 3:21 pm
Elijah McClain memorial

A memorial at the site where 23-year-old Elijah McClain was violently detained by Aurora police in August 2019 while he was walking home from a convenience store. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

Colorado Senate lawmakers on Monday passed an amended bill that would restrict first responders’ ability to administer ketamine, a powerful anesthetic that causes dissociation, when responding to a call for service.

Four Democrats — Reps. Yadira Caraveo of Thornton and Leslie Herod of Denver, along with Sens. Rhonda Fields of Aurora and Julie Gonzales of Denver — sponsored House Bill 21-1251.

“Ketamine is not a drug that should be used lightly or without being able to verify basic medical information like a patient’s weight, medical history, and other relevant factors,” Caraveo, a pediatrician, said in a May statement. “Colorado has already lost far too many lives due to the misuse of this powerful drug.”

HB-1251 would require emergency medical services providers, in situations with law enforcement present, to administer ketamine only to someone after weighing the individual or after having three trained people estimate the individual’s weight, to make sure the right dose is delivered. The paramedic would have to try to get verbal permission from the EMS director before administering ketamine.

State Rep. Yadira Caraveo
State Rep. Yadira Caraveo, a Democrat from Thornton, represents Colorado House District 31. (Colorado General Assembly photo)

Outside of a hospital, HB-1251 would bar first responders from administering ketamine or a similar drug to sedate a suspect, except in cases of a “justifiable emergency.” The common diagnosis of “excited delirium” wouldn’t count as a “justifiable emergency” if HB-1251 were to pass.

HB-1251 would also prohibit law enforcement officers from compelling, directing or unduly influencing a first responder’s use of a chemical restraint on a suspect. If that happened, the emergency medical services provider would have to report the violation to the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, which manages the certification and training of law enforcement officers. The bill directs EMS providers not to base a medical decision entirely on the information provided by a law enforcement officer about a suspect.

The August 2019 death of Elijah McClain, 23, in Aurora after emergency medical services workers injected McClain with a high dose of ketamine, placed a sharp, critical focus on the increasing use of the drug outside of hospitals.

The House did not agree with the Senate’s changes to HB-1251. So, lawmakers from both chambers met in a conference committee on Thursday to hash out their differences.

The Senate re-passed the compromise bill, which scrapped one of the Senate’s changes. In doing so, it added back in the provision that a law enforcement officer must intervene when a fellow officer directs the use of ketamine, as well as when a fellow officer administers it. The House must vote on the compromise version before it can go to Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, for his signature.

In the House, the bill initially passed May 14 on a vote of 37-25, with all GOP lawmakers opposed, and all Democrats present in favor, other than Rep. Donald Valdez of La Jara.

“Don’t use the tragic situations in Colorado regarding ketamine to criminalize police officers for their statements to paramedics,” Rep. Terri Carver, a Republican from Colorado Springs, said in a statement after the vote. “This bill will silence police officers from giving needed information to paramedics on scene, for fear of a criminal conviction if the police statements ‘unduly influence’ the paramedics in their medical decision to administer ketamine.”

The Senate initially passed HB-1251 on a 20-15 vote June 1, along party lines.

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Faith Miller was a reporter with Colorado Newsline covering the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories.