McClain ketamine investigation ongoing; metro agencies continue same protocols

Problem Solvers

DENVER (KDVR) – One day after the Aurora City Council unanimously voted to temporarily suspend the use of ketamine to sedate agitated patients, two other metro Denver fire departments said they will wait for the state’s ketamine review to be completed while they continue following their own protocols.

“We are aware of Aurora City Council’s decision last night and that the CDPHE is currently reviewing the waiver program,” said Kristin Eckmann, a spokesperson for South Metro Fire Rescue. “We understand that this topic is being widely discussed throughout Colorado and the nation right now and very much appreciate the diligence, dialogue, and careful and thorough review that is being done.”

South Metro Fire Rescue found its emergency medical providers followed protocol in August 2019 when a paramedic sedated Elijah McKnight with 750 mg of ketamine. 

McKnight’s case is separate from that of Elijah McClain, which occurred during the same month in Aurora.

McKnight spent several days on a ventilator in the intensive care unit following the injection.  FOX31 reported several discrepancies in the manner in which SMFR medical professionals said the case was handled and what could be seen in body camera footage that was obtained months later. However, the state health department found the ketamine administration complied with medical protocols.

“SMFR continues to follow the protocols set forth by CDPHE at this time and approved by them in our waiver renewal granted last month. Please be assured, however, that after the formal evaluation of the waiver program is completed by the CDPHE review committee, the district will make sure that we continue to be aligned with their direction and follow all ketamine protocols set by them,” said Eckmann. “South Metro remains committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of citizens and emergency care providers in pre-hospital patient care environments. Taking care of our citizens remains our top priority.”

A spokesperson for West Metro Fire Rescue, Ronda Scholting, said the department continues to follow “strict protocols and procedures for ketamine use as outlined by our physician advisor” while the department waits for the results of the state review.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers found a West Metro Fire Rescue paramedic used ketamine to sedate Jeremiah Axtell in January, despite his statements to first responders that he would cooperate with them “100 percent.”

The Colorado Society of Anesthesiologists recently called upon the state to suspend its ketamine program while it continues to review the program, but in a statement Tuesday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment indicated it would not be taking action to stop its program before its review is conducted.

“CDPHE will continue to follow through on the review committee…and will make decisions based on the findings of the review,” said Peter Myers, a spokesperson for the state health department.

Myers said the health department is aware of Aurora City Council’s decision to suspend the use of ketamine in its city while independent investigators working on behalf of the City review the death of McClain.

That “is within their purview to make decisions based on their community’s needs,” said Myers. 

McClain, 23, was injected with ketamine prior to his death in August 2019. McClain had also been in an altercation with police prior to his demise. A coroner could not determine his cause of death.

Meanwhile, the reopened CDPHE investigation into McClain’s death remains open, said Myers.

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