CDPHE says it will resume review of ketamine waiver program

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Ketamine. Credit: KDVR

DENVER (KDVR) — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) announced Friday that it will resume a review of a program allowing local agencies to use the sedative ketamine.

In August, the state announced it would conduct a “thorough review” of the program and the state’s oversight mechanisms after multiple reports by the FOX31 Problem Solvers shed light on public concerns and questionable incidents involving the use of the drug to sedate people who had been involved in police altercations.

The state also said it would develop a public report and include various medical and emergency experts in the review.

But the FOX31 Problem Solvers reported multiple times on the delays in getting the project started.

On Friday, the CDPHE said it paused the review to “reassess the scope, in deference to other investigations.”

The use of ketamine became a topic of attention following the death of Elijah McClain. He was confronted by three Aurora police officers who used the carotid hold to subdue him, injected with ketamine by paramedics, and later died.

“CDPHE will be evaluating authorizations for ketamine use in Colorado, in the prehospital setting and associated outcomes at a statewide level, without reviewing individual use cases,” the CDPHE said Friday.

Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the executive director of the state health department, said this “more clearly defined” scope will allow it do investigate the health outcomes of ketamine administration by paramedics in the field.

“We will focus on the program as a whole rather than any individual incidents involving the use of ketamine administered in the field,” she said.

The review committee will be overseen by the CDPHE’s chief medical officer and will consist of EMS providers, pharmacists, emergency room doctors and anesthesiologists, among others.

The CDPHE’s waiver program allows emergency medical services (EMS) to administer ketamine outside a hospital setting.

The state maintains a list of providers that have been approved to use ketamine. Providers must tell the state each time ketamine is administered.

According to the CDPHE, ketamine has been used 902 times in the last three years for excited delirium and/or extreme or profound agitation.

“To protect the integrity of the investigation, CDPHE will not provide additional information until the work is complete. At that point, CDPHE will release a final report,” the department said.

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.

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