Aurora City Councilman plans to ask for ketamine moratorium at next council meeting

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AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — An Aurora City Councilman said he will ask the City to temporarily stop paramedics from using ketamine to sedate agitated patients until the City’s independent investigation of Elijah McClain’s death is complete.

“We shouldn’t be using (ketamine) while we’re also investigating it. That just doesn’t make sense to me,” said Councilman Curtis Gardner, who sits on the City’s public safety committee.

Gardner said he plans to bring the issue forward at the council study session and council meeting on Sept. 14.

“This item would place a moratorium on the use of ketamine until 30 days after delivery of the final investigation report to City Council,” he said.

McClain died in August 2019 after an altercation with police and after a paramedic sedated him with a 500 mg dose of ketamine. 

The state health department announced last weekend that it would review the state’s program that allows paramedics to administer the drug, but Aurora Mayor Pro-Tem Nicole Johnston said she was disappointed that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment isn’t doing more to address the ongoing concerns related to the use of the drug on people who have been involved in law enforcement situations.

“If there are these complication rates, if there are these questions and concerns, I feel it’s very important to put a moratorium and not grant any more waivers, and for waivers that are already in place, to stop those. So, I was disappointed that it didn’t go to that next step,” she said.

Last year, the complication rate associated with ketamine administrations to people with excited delirium was 24.07%.  So far this year, the complication rate is 16.11%.

Johnston said she also has major concerns about the definition of the agitated condition, excited delirium, that allows paramedics to administer the drug to a patient. State guidelines show “many physicians question the existence of an excited delirium syndrome,” and that the use of the drug for that purpose “does not have a large body of evidence-based support in the literature.”

“Expecting our EMS staff to make that diagnosis on something that could also share characteristics of anxiety or drug use or other issues is something that we really have to make sure we’re clear about for using that in the cases of ketamine,” said Johnston.

Aurora Fire Rescue told the FOX31 Problem Solvers the department would not comment directly on Gardner’s resolution.

“The paramedics and EMTs of Aurora Fire Rescue, as with all EMS agencies across the state, rely on physicians to write, evaluate and update the medical protocols which they follow,” said Sherri-Jo Stowell, a spokesperson for the AFR.

In March, Dr. Eric Hill, the medical director for AFR, said, “The reason why we choose ketamine is ketamine is considered to be the best medication for this condition (excited delirium). It’s the medication that we can use to control the situation the quickest.  It’s been used in hospitals for decades. It’s the number one sedative that we use actually on kids in the hospitals when we need to do a sedation procedure.”

The American Society of Anesthesiologists has questioned the quantities of the drug and how the drug is being monitored by paramedics, who are not in a hospital setting.

“I am still not convinced that we are doing the best protocol for the use of ketamine, particularly in law enforcement cases,” said Johnston.

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