Colorado lawmaker meets with grassroots group drafting ketamine legislation

Problem Solvers
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DENVER (KDVR) — A local group of lawyers, medical professionals and lawmakers say they are drafting legislation intended to reform the state’s ketamine sedation policies.

“We’re trying to hear all different points of view on the issues and trying to come up with legislation that fits the circumstances,” said Anita Springsteen, who organized more than a dozen stakeholders to discuss questions, concerns and legislative opportunities related to the drug.

Colorado has a medical waiver program that allows paramedics – under their medical director’s license – to sedate agitated people with ketamine, sometimes after or during their involvement in police altercations.

In August, after the FOX31 Problem Solvers reported on several questionable incidents involving the drug  – including the death of Elijah McClain – the state said it would begin an immediate review of the program.

However, the Problem Solvers discovered, last week, that the state quietly put the review on hold while it waits for the state Attorney General to complete an investigation into McClain’s death.

“I think it’s very exciting that citizens and activists are able to move forward in their own way even when a state agency is paralyzed,” Springsteen said.

Rep. Leslie Herod (D), confirmed that she has met with Springsteen’s group, which includes members of the Grassroots Law Project.

“(Herod) had asked us to put together a stakeholders’ meeting, which we did in October, and it was very successful,” said Springsteen, who told the FOX31 Problem Solvers she had also met with members of the governor’s staff.

Springsteen says her group of stakeholders includes emergency medical service providers, and other medical professionals, including anesthesiologists and pharmacists.

“I’ve sat through, now, two meetings where I came away knowing more about ketamine, knowing more about the issues that other healthcare professionals are having,” said Dr. Kimberly Portzline, a pharmacist, who expressed concerns about how the drug is being used.

“I may not always agree with other healthcare professionals and other stakeholders are saying, but I value that information because that’s going to make the waiver system safer for people,” said Portzline.

Springsteen said she was dismayed that the Colorado Department of Health and Environment decided to postpone its plans to conduct a thorough review of the ketamine waiver program and that the Department didn’t inform the public of the delay.

“This should have been done weeks ago,” she said of the state’s planned review.

Springsteen’s boyfriend, Jeremiah Axtell, received a dose of the drug, nearly a year ago, after an altercation with police.  Both Springsteen and Axtell said the sedative, given by a paramedic, was extremely concerning.

However, some emergency medical professionals say drafting new legislation is not the appropriate way to address concerns about the ketamine program.

“Medical practice should not be dictated by anybody who is not a subject matter expert within their field, so any other body or entity that is essentially trying to legislate medical practice, I do not believe is the correct way to handle a situation,” said Dr. Stein Bronsky, an emergency medical physician and the City of Colorado Springs’ medical director.

“The state, through CDPHE, already has an excellent and comprehensive system for analysis and regulation,” he said.

Bronsky said the state’s Emergency Medical Practice Advisory Council, which includes emergency medical services medical professionals, is already responsible for evaluating and monitoring the ketamine waiver program.

He said he previously served as a member of that Council, also called EMPAC, for eight years. “The EMPAC…was set up specifically for these types of scenarios or this type of regulation I should say,” he said.

Bronsky said the subject matter experts who sit on the council do an “excellent” job.

“The (Emergency Medical Services) community, in general, including the physicians who provide medical direction, is always happy to hear the opinions and advice from subject matter experts who have a true understanding of our unique environment out in the field,” he said.

Bronsky said sedative medication is a tool that should be available to EMS personnel to help patients who may potentially need the drug in “appropriate situations.”

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