Health department stays mum on whether ketamine review has begun, one month after announcement

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DENVER (KDVR) — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is not revealing the status of its review of a state waiver program that allows paramedics to administer ketamine to agitated patients, but some are questioning whether the review has begun.

“I cannot provide any additional information at this time,” Peter Myers, a spokesperson for the CDPHE said. 

Myers would not say which experts, specifically, had been tapped to participate in the review process or whether that team had been assembled to begin the review process.

In August, CDPHE officials said the review committee would “begin immediately” and include EMS providers, pharmacists, ER doctors, anesthesiologists, and others who would examine the safety of ketamine administration in emergency medical settings. 

At the time, the health department also said it would not provide additional information until the review – which was expected to last 12 weeks — was complete.

“The Colorado Society of Anesthesiologists (CSA) has received notice that an announcement from CDPHE on the review of the ketamine program is forthcoming but was given no details on how the ketamine review is to take place,” Dr. Randall Clark said, an anesthesiologist, who has expressed publicly many concerns about the use of ketamine by paramedics, on behalf the American Society of Anesthesiologists and the CSA.  

As FOX31 previously reported, Clark sent a July email to CDPHE’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Eric France, asking to be involved in any future review process of the drug. 

After the CDPHE’s August announcement that it would conduct a review of the ketamine waiver program, Clark said he received an email from France that indicated Clark would be invited to apply for the review committee, but as of today’s date, Clark has not heard anything further about the process.

Clark said the CSA, however, did receive a phone call from a state health department employee, who said Clark was still being considered for the review team.

“CSA remains concerned that, except now in Aurora, protocols that have led to a substantial number of complications, including the need for a breathing tube to be placed into the airway of individuals receiving ketamine, remain in place. CSA again calls attention to its statement that the ketamine program for excited delirium should be suspended pending the completion of the CDPHE review,” he said.

According to CDPHE data, ketamine caused complications in 24% of Colorado cases in which the drug was used by paramedics to sedate extremely agitated patients in 2019.

“Like most Coloradans, I would have liked to have seen the state pick up on this a whole lot sooner, especially in light of the number of complications that seem to be coming forth around the use of this particular drug,” Rep. Jim Smallwood said, a Republican who has served on the Health and Human Services Committee in Colorado’s General Assembly.  

“It feels wholly appropriate for elected officials representing their constituency to look at legislation around this if the CDPHE doesn’t act quickly in providing the information that the public is really asking for right now,” he said.

Rep. Leslie Herod, a Democrat who served as vice chair of the Judiciary committee in the Colorado General Assembly, said she is hoping to learn more from the CDPHE review.

“I’m assuming we will learn more about how ketamine has been abused in the system and ways we can make the system better,” she said. “So, coupled with the CDPHE investigation with the investigation that you all have done, I think the general assembly will have a clear picture about how to move forward.”

Herod said she will also consider the statements that have been made by anesthesiologists, expressing concern about how the drug is being used – including the quantity and the monitoring of patients – by paramedics. She said she also has concerns about how ketamine is being used in connection with cases in which law enforcement is involved.

“What we need to do is make sure that the use of ketamine is regulated, and that the regulation and the use is approved in a way that doesn’t end in the death of people. What we’ve seen through your investigations is that it’s not just about what’s happening in Aurora, but quite frankly, there has been instances across the state where the use of ketamine has been abused and has resulted in disastrous consequences for people, including death. We need to change that,” Herod said.

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