Medical examiner explains ketamine’s ‘toxic effects’ listed in Colo. Springs man’s autopsy

Problem Solvers

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KDVR) – The El Paso County coroner and chief medical examiner said no one will ever know if Hunter Barr, 26, would have survived had he not been injected with ketamine while high on LSD and cough suppressants, but Dr. Leon Kelly said the sedative injection can compound negative effects of other drugs in a person’s system.

“We will never know whether he would’ve lived or died had ketamine not been delivered, but certainly, it’s a drug that, in that setting, can make the effects of those other drugs worse – can make him sicker and do more poorly – in that setting,” said Dr. Leon Kelly.

Kelly was not the doctor who examined Barr’s body after Barr’s death in September 2020, but he has since reviewed the young man’s medical records and statements provided by the medical personnel who administered ketamine to Barr.

An amended autopsy shows Barr likely died “as a result of toxic effects of ketamine in the setting of dextromethorphan (cough suppressants) and lysergic acid diethylamide intoxication (LSD).”

Kelly said the “toxic effects” of ketamine can be things like “increased blood pressure and strain on the heart. It has sedative properties as well – which in some situations, is good, but in other situations can be bad. So, all drugs carry with them a significant risk even when used appropriately, even when used in the right setting. All interventions have an intrinsic risk that come with them.”

“Ketamine is a very useful drug, like most drugs, but all drugs, regardless of how effective they are, come with risks,” said Kelly. “Every drug, if not used in the appropriate setting or used at higher levels than it should be, or, used sometimes in the setting of other drugs or medications that can compound those negative effects, you can get bad outcomes, and ketamine is no different.”

What happened to Hunter Barr

Hunter Barr was a very good son and friend, said his father Mark Barr, who recently informed the City of Colorado Springs that his family may file a lawsuit related Hunter’s death.

According to a police report obtained the by the FOX31 Problem Solvers, Mark Barr called 911 after his son consumed LSD and started acting erratically.

“It was just kind of a sad situation -when you call for help- you know. I didn’t want him to hurt himself, so I called for help,” said Barr.

Hunter was a vegetarian who loved animals and music. He played the guitar and piano and was “sort-of self-taught” said Barr. “He was very outgoing. He was very friendly. He just had a good soul. He was very spiritual, always looking at things, always caring about other people. He was just a really good person.”

When police arrived, they watched as Hunter stumbled through the front screen door and fell on the ground. They ran to his side asking if he was ok.

Eventually, officers handcuffed Hunter. As he laid face down, he would occasionally shout something with slow, slurred speech and slightly lift his body, but he was mostly still.

Barr wants to know why paramedics sedated his son with ketamine when they arrived.

A police report said they administered two doses, but a spokesperson for the Colorado Springs Fire Department would not confirm exactly how much Hunter Barr received other than to say the amount paramedics administered was within the department’s protocol.

“I mean, he was already subdued at the time, and already handcuffed,” Barr said. “I didn’t really understand why they had to sedate him because they could have got him on the gurney, the way he was, without it, I think.”

The autopsy and the amended autopsy

As the Problem Solvers reported, Hunter Barr’s autopsy was initially completed in December 2020, but it was amended in March 2021, after the family said it sent a notice of claim to the city, expressing an intent to sue.

The initial autopsy said Barr died as a result of “toxic effects of ketamine,” but the later version, based on additional testing of Barr’s blood, clarified that the “toxic effects of ketamine” were “in the setting of dextromethorphan and lysergic acid diethylamide intoxication.”

Kelly said the amendment was intended to clarify the circumstances of Barr’s death, but the cause and manner of death were not really impacted.

“It much more clearly explained the mechanism of how all these drugs interacted with each other to affect his death to contribute and cause his death,” said Kelly, who said he believes he became aware of the case and the missing details in the autopsy report because of a news report about the claim to sue.

“Ultimately, the coroner’s office and the medical examiner’s office is an independent agency. We’re not in any way affiliated with the city, so there’s no motivation one way or the other. We deal with controversial cases with people’s lives on the line and millions of dollars nearly every day … the truth is, is that this job is more than figuring out why people die. You have to be able to anticipate the issues that are going to come up, the questions that families are going to have, the various parties involved in any case – anticipate those and then do the appropriate testing, so you know how to answer them,” he said.

“That initial autopsy report didn’t thoroughly answer all of those questions, so the additional tests and the additional clarification is really so that all parties involved know exactly – as best as we can – know exactly what happened, what the issues are, and the debate that needs to happen,” he said.

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