Ketamine bill advances, would limit police influence over the drug’s use

Politics

DENVER (KDVR) – A proposed bill that would change the way ketamine is administered in Colorado passed on second reading in the House of Representatives, putting it one step closer to becoming law.

The House voted to pass several amendments to HB21-1251. In part, the bill would limit a law enforcement officer’s influence over a paramedic’s decision to sedate someone with the drug.

“Ketamine is being used as an excessive use of force in the field, and if it used inappropriately, at the direction of law enforcement, there should be repercussions,” said Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver), a prime co-sponsor of the bill.

In 2019, FOX31 Problem Solvers investigations revealed the drug was used to sedate at least two men involved in police altercations, who were later hospitalized.

Elijah McClain went into cardiac arrest and later died after he was sedated, but a coroner could not determine what role — if any — ketamine played in his death.

Elijah McKnight spent several days intubated in the intensive care unit after paramedics gave him two doses of the drug while he was physically restrained. A Problem Solvers investigation revealed that a sheriff’s deputy had asked the paramedic whether or not he could give McKnight medication while he was restrained. The paramedic suggested giving him ketamine.

Amendments to the bill include adding clarifying language to better define what an officer can do and say during critical situations.

A peace officer would not be allowed to “direct, or unduly” influence a paramedic’s decision to administer ketamine.

However, according to Herod, the bill permits a peace officer to give pertinent information to the emergency medical providers when they arrive.

“We are not trying to say any words used or any information on scene will be used against the officer. In fact, we put that in statute,” she said during Thursday’s second reading of the bill.

Herod said there is language in the bill that shows, across the board, “giving any information at the scene to the EMS provider does not constitute a violation.”

However, many Republicans said the bill’s language needed more clarity.

Rep. Terri Carver (R-El Paso) said she thought the bill would have a “chilling effect” on the communication between EMS providers and law enforcement officials on the scene.

“If you want police officers standing off to the sideline saying nothing, that’s what some of these consequences are going to be in circumstances where their assistance and interactions with the fire chiefs and the EMS help keep everybody safe and actually result in a better decision by EMS,” Carver said.

The Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police and the County Sheriffs of Colorado told the Problem Solvers they were still evaluating the changes to the bill.

“We can say that they do not address several of law enforcement’s major concerns. With HB 21-1251, Colorado would make an officer’s words a use of force on par with physical actions — like using a gun or taser — if EMS decides to use ketamine,” they said in a statement emailed to FOX31.

“If passed, House Bill 1251 may hinder law enforcement from providing all necessary information to EMS for fear of being punished if EMS chooses to use a chemical restraint. Most law enforcement agencies have policies in place that state they are not to specifically recommend a chemical restraint. However, failing to provide medical personnel with all the information they have to make the best decision for the health and safety of the patient would also be negligent on the part of the officer,” the statement said.

Herod said she had been approached by EMS providers who expressed concern that law enforcement officers were influencing their decisions.

“There are EMS providers who have come to me and said that ‘We need support. We feel like we are being directed by law enforcement officers to use ketamine, and we can’t say no. If you’re not doing it, this bill will not apply to you, and you are fine. But for those who are or those who think that they should direct the use of ketamine, we are making it very clear that that is outside of the scope of your duties,” Herod said.

The debate and discussion lasted more than three hours Thursday.

If the bill passes after the third reading on the House floor, it will move to the Senate for consideration.

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