Ketamine bill introduced at federal level, 2 years after Elijah McClain’s death

Problem Solvers

WASHINGTON (KDVR) – U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse introduced a federal bill on Monday that would restrict the use of ketamine to sedate people who are involved police incidents.

The proposed legislation would place a “ban on use of ketamine during arrest and detention for federal offenses other than in a hospital,” according to draft language.

Neguse is working with various members of Congress, including Jerry Nadler, Jason Crow, Pramila Jayapal, Mondaire Jones and Sheila Jackson Lee.

This federal bill comes on the heels of state legislation introduced by Rep. Leslie Herod and Rep. Yadira Caraveo that restricts when and how medics can use ketamine on patients who have been involved in police situations.

Herod told the Problem Solvers she has been working with Neguse.

Both were inspired to draft legislation after the 2019 death of Elijah McClain. McClain received a dose of ketamine before he passed away after a rough police altercation.

Although deaths linked to ketamine are rare, a coroner could not rule out the possibility that McClain may have suffered an adverse reaction to the drug.

“Too many families have grieved the lives of their loved ones because of excessive use of force,” Herod said in a statement. “This is a national pandemic, and today, Congressman Neguse’s leadership introducing the Ketamine Restriction Act will help reduce stories like Elijah’s and hold law enforcement accountable. In Colorado, we took the first step in restricting its use and I’m proud to work with the Congressman to further our efforts.”

Neguse told the Problem Solvers he has followed FOX31’s coverage of ketamine administrations in the state of Colorado.

“I followed your coverage and appreciate you focusing in on this issue and shedding some light on it in a way that others haven’t,” he said.

“In far too many circumstances ketamine is being used to help effectuate arrests without a full appreciation of the health risks,” Neguse said.

In a press release, Neguse said “the tragic death of Elijah McClain in Colorado underscores the clear need to rethink the use of this drug in cases of arrest and detention to ensure nothing like this ever happens again to a member of our community. Our bill builds on legislation recently passed by the Colorado legislature to enact a federal prohibition on ketamine for arrests and detention, other than at a hospital. This is common-sense and it’s imperative we get it done.”

According to Neguse’s office, the Ketamine Restriction Act would prevent state and local agencies from receiving federal criminal justice grant funding — the Byrne grant program or the COPS grant program — unless they are able to certify ketamine has been prohibited in arrest and detention situations by their local or state government.

“There have been multiple cases in Colorado and across the country, and thanks to great investigative work by many different reporters including your organization, the public has learned more about the use of ketamine in arrest settings and the disastrous and in some cases, tragic, consequences of doing so,” said Neguse.

The Emergency Medical Services Association of Colorado president, Scott Sholes, said he and other medical leaders were aware the bill would be coming, but he has not read the bill.

He said the leaders at EMSAC believe “lawmakers at both state and federal levels are reacting to misinformation to the detriment of patients experiencing dangerous levels of agitation. We ask the lawmakers in Washington fully vet the issue and listen carefully to the medical experts,” Sholes said in an email.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers reached out to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the regulatory agency that approves a medical director’s application for a waiver to administer the drug to extremely agitated people. A spokesperson did not respond to our request for a comment by our deadline.

Will Dunn is the senior manager of clinical services at Eagle County Paramedic Services and a member of the state’s Emergency Medical Practice Advisory Council, which makes recommendations to CDPHE about whether to grant waivers to medical directors. He told the Problem Solvers he hopes emergency medical professionals will be included in the lawmaking process.

“We hope that experts, like leaders from the National Association of EMS Physicians, are involved in the revisions to this bill,” he said.

“No drug — including ketamine — should be used solely as a tool of law enforcement,” Dunn said. “Ketamine has multiple clinical applications beyond sedation and, for many emergency medical systems (EMS), it has become an invaluable medication. A recent, peer-reviewed article appearing in the Annals of Emergency Medicine indicates ketamine is safe in the unique EMS environment (Fernandez AR, et al. Out-of-Hospital Ketamine: Indications for Use, Patient Outcomes, and Associated Mortality. Ann Emerg Med. 2021 Jun 7:S0196-0644(21)00152-9.).”

Neguse said the bill still takes other ketamine uses into account.

“At the end of the day, this bill would not ban the use of ketamine entirely,” Neguse told the Problem Solvers. “It would still enable physicians, doctors to be able to administer the sedative in a hospital setting, but obviously ensuring it is done appropriately in that kind of setting and not in an arrest or a detention.”

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