Anesthesiologist group warns about ketamine sedation in certain scenarios

Problem Solvers

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. (KDVR) – The American Society of Anesthesiologists is warning against the use of ketamine in non-medical settings, without necessary medical equipment.

The group issued a statement this week saying it “firmly opposes the use of ketamine or any other sedative/hypnotic agent to chemically incapacitate someone for a law enforcement purpose and not for a legitimate medical reason.”

paramedic administered ketamine to sedate Elijah McClain in August 2019 after police physically struggled with him and before McClain died. A coroner could not rule out an adverse reaction to the medication among many other things as a contributor to his death.

While emergency physicians have said the drug is a safe option for paramedics to use to sedate extremely agitated patients who suffer from a condition called “excited delirium,” some in Colorado have questioned whether it is being used properly, according to state guidelines.
The drug is not FDA approved for use on patients experiencing extreme agitation.
In Colorado, paramedics – not police – are able to administer the drug for that purpose if the medical director that oversees their agency has a waiver from the state health department.

“Ketamine is a potent analgesic, sedative and general anesthetic agent which can elevate blood pressure and heart rate, and can lead to confusion, agitation, delirium, and hallucinations,” said the American Society of  Anesthesiologists in its public statement. “These effects can end in death when administered in a non-health care setting without appropriately trained medical personnel and necessary equipment.”

The FOX31 Problem Solvers investigated another ketamine injection that led to a state investigation into the use of the drug on a man named Elijah McKnight last summer.

McKnight spent more than a week in the hospital, including several days in the intensive care unit, after South Metro Fire Rescue paramedics decided to inject him with two doses of the drug after he had an altercation with sheriff’s deputies.

According to Colorado’s Ketamine Waiver Guidance, “EMS providers should not engage in restraining people for law enforcement purposes.”

Michael Porter, the chief officer involved with medical care at South Metro Fire Rescue, told the FOX31 Problem Solvers in the fall that unequivocally, law enforcement personnel have no influence on a medic’s decisions. 

However, the body camera footage shows a deputy asking the paramedics, “You guys can’t give him anything, can you?” To which a paramedic responded, “We can give him ketamine, and he’ll be sleeping like a baby.”

The state investigation is expected to be complete very soon.

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