Critics to Cops: Don't Give Ketamine During Arrests

The drug has led to hospitalizations and even deaths
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 22, 2020 4:00 PM CDT
A Drug Used by Police Is Drawing New Scrutiny
In this July 3, 2020, file photo, a makeshift memorial stands at a site across the street from where Elijah McClain was stopped by police officers while walking home in Aurora, Colo.   (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

(Newser) – Police stopped Elijah McClain on the street in suburban Denver last year after deeming the young Black man suspicious. He was thrown into a chokehold, threatened with a dog and stun gun, then subjected to another law enforcement tool before he suffered cardiac arrest and died: a drug called ketamine, the AP reports. Paramedics inject it into people like McClain as a sedative, often at the behest of police who believe suspects are out of control. But it's increasingly found in arrests and has become another flashpoint in the debate over brutality against people of color. An AP analysis on ketamine policies finds conflicting medical standards and nonexistent protocols that have resulted in hospitalizations and even deaths.

After McClain's death, Colorado's health department opened an investigation into the growing use of ketamine, first approved for use in 2013. There are no federal standards for law enforcement or emergency medical personnel on the drug's use, and state policies and reporting requirements vary. Emergency medical personnel administer ketamine when they believe it's necessary, police say. But there's growing concern over whether officers are too involved in the decision and conflicting medical opinions on using it during arrests. Most states and agencies say ketamine may be administered when someone exhibits "excited delirium" or agitation, but one doctor said "this term tends to be applied out in the field by police who are certainly not expert in diagnosis of neuropsychiatric syndromes." Click for the AP's deep dive into the subject.

(Read more police stories.)

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