State health department clears another complaint about paramedics who sedated man with ketamine

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DENVER (KDVR) — The state health department says it will not be sanctioning the medical providers with West Metro Fire Rescue who sedated Jeremiah Axtell with ketamine in January after he told authorities he would be cooperative and comply with their commands.

“We have determined that, pursuant to our authority to take disciplinary action against providers…the Department has no grounds for disciplinary sanctions against any of the West Metro providers related to this incident,” a letter from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) said.

The letter did not reference whether the CDPHE officials who reviewed the case felt the actions by WMFR were appropriate or warranted.

“The investigation of Jeremiah Axtell’s case by CDPHE predictably avoids taking any position on the real issue – whether it’s OK to put lives at risk with forced injection of sedatives like ketamine during police encounters (even when citizens are cooperative, calm, and oriented – as Jeremiah was),” said Anita Springsteen, Axtell’s girlfriend and the person who filed the CDPHE complaint.

“CDPHE is not acting as a regulatory agency, but as the enabling agency for severe violations of civil rights and as accomplices to assault and battery and even manslaughter. There is no accountability or discipline at any level – even when there is video proof of wrongdoing, as in Jeremiah’s case – which is terrifying,” she said. 

Axtell received a 450 mg dose of the drug after a verbal altercation with his neighbors and an interaction with police. West Metro Fire Rescue paramedics administered the sedative after a detained Axtell loudly stated, “Everybody! I will cooperate 100 percent.”

“I knew something was going to happen. I wanted everyone around to know what was wrong,” Axtell told the Problem Solvers in July. He said he was never physically combative.

“There are de-escalating techniques that providers use prior to going to any type of sedative medication. Once those are deemed not successful, then medications are indicated to treat these conditions,” said Jeremy Metz, the division chief of Emergency Medical Services for West Metro Fire Rescue, in July.

Ketamine is a drug that is not FDA-approved to sedate agitated patients experiencing a condition called excited delirium, according to a spokesperson for the FDA, Nathan Arnold. However, an agency’s medical director can apply for a waiver from the state health department so its paramedics can administer the drug for that purpose.

Ketamine is the same drug that was administered by Aurora Fire Rescue to Elijah McClain in August 2019 after he was involved in a police altercation. McClain later died, and a coroner could not rule out ketamine as a possible contributing factor. The state health department is still reviewing that incident while also conducting a review of the program that allows paramedics to inject the sedative into an agitated patient.

Many emergency physicians have said ketamine, when used properly, is the sedative that has the best safety profile.

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