CDPHE to review state ketamine waiver program

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DENVER (KDVR) — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced on Saturday plans to review the ketamine waiver program for the state.

“Today I am calling for the immediate and thorough review of the state’s ketamine waiver program,” Jill Hunsaker Ryan said, executive director, CDPHE. “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.” 

The use of ketamine became a topic of attention following the death of Elijah McClain. He was confronted by three Aurora police officers, injected with ketamine by paramedics and later died. The state’s policies allowed a paramedic to sedate McClain with the drug.

FOX31’s Problem Solver Lori Jane Gliha has researched the topic and accumulated a library of information on the use of the drug, what experts say about it and how the state’s policies have been evaluated since McClain’s death and other questionable incidents.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists told FOX31 the CDPHE should review and “perhaps” tighten state policies that allow paramedics to sedate agitated patients with ketamine.

Another incident in question involves a man named Elijah McKnight, 25, who spent several days in a hospital’s intensive care unit, intubated, after his encounter with paramedics and their use of ketamine on him last summer.

The paramedics at South Metro Fire did a self-review on the McKnight case and found that protocol was followed when they injected him.

The CDPHE re-opened the investigation into the use of ketamine in the Elijah McClain case after it came under fire with complaints.

“The department received numerous complaints, beginning on June 24, 2020, that provided additional information regarding a ketamine administration in August 2019. The department launched a complaint investigation which is currently ongoing,” Peter Myers said, a spokesperson for the Health Facility Education and Quality branch of CDPHE.

According to new data analyzed and released by the CDPHE, ketamine caused complications in 24% of Colorado cases where medical professionals used the drug to sedate extremely agitated patients in 2019.

“More to come about our approach and thought about how best to oversee and provide, to learn and get new insight about the ketamine program given the attention that it certainly is getting locally and nationally,” Dr. Eric France said, CDPHE’s Chief Medical Officer, who briefly spoke during a meeting for Colorado’s Emergency Medical Practice Advisory Council.

The CDPHE said the review will begin immediately and is expected to last a minimum of 12 weeks. They will not disclose any information during the review in order to protect the integrity of the process.

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