Colorado pauses drug waiver program that allowed medics to administer ketamine

Local News

DENVER (KDVR) – The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is temporarily suspending new applications for emergency medical services drug waivers while it undergoes a “process improvement project” for approximately 90 days.

Drug waivers allow medical professionals to administer medications  – like the sedative, ketamine – outside their traditional scope of practice.

Earlier this summer, CDPHE suspended ketamine waivers and temporarily stopped the practice of using the drug to sedate agitated people outside of a hospital setting after the governor signed a new law, limiting how that drug can be used by paramedics.

Ketamine law: What is it and who does it affect?

The law came after extensive investigative reporting by the Problem Solvers, which closely examined cases in which ketamine was used, by paramedics, to sedate agitated people after the patient had been physically restrained during a police altercation.

One such case involved the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, whose official cause of death was undetermined.

The health department is currently changing its policies and regulations to come in compliance with the new ketamine law.

The pause on accepting waiver applications will allow CDPHE to “find some ways to improve upon what we’ve built,” said Randy Kuykendall, director of CDPHE’s emergency medical services division.

“We’re just going to take a breather here for a minute and spend a month or two re-designing –  if you will – and reviewing the processes that were in place,” Kuykendall said.

Kuykendall, who was speaking during a public Emergency Medical Practice Advisory Council meeting, said CDPHE would be working to find opportunities to improve the waiver processes that are currently in place for all medications “to ensure we’re administering those programs as effectively as possible.”

“We could probably find some ways to improve upon what we’ve built,” he said.

Health department ketamine review

Meanwhile, CDPHE’s ketamine review, which was announced in August 2020, is still not complete.

In an early July press conference, Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the executive director of CDPHE, said she anticipated the review would be completed in July.

“It is in its final stages of review at the senior executive level at the governor’s office and such,” said Kuykendall.

He said he thought the results were “imminent” but could not provide an exact date.

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