What’s in the ketamine bill that just passed the House Judiciary Committee in Colorado?

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Denver (KDVR) — A bill focused on changing how and when paramedics can administer ketamine to patients who have been involved in law enforcement incidents is headed to the House of Representatives’ Committee of the Whole for further discussion and debate.

“I think this is a huge step forward for Colorado,” said Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver), who serves as the bill’s prime co-sponsor with Rep. Yadira Caraveo (D-Thornton).

“At the end of the day, what we have to keep in mind is that these are medications that can have very serious effects,” Caraveo told the Problem Solvers.

FOX31 was the only TV station present inside the hearing room when the bill passed 7-4 after a five-and-a-half-hour discussion.

“We must have tighter guardrails, and yes, sanctions for law enforcement officers that improperly administer or direct the use of ketamine,” said Herod.

What’s in the Colorado ketamine bill?

The bill, which has undergone several amendments and continues to undergo changes, would require medics to follow particular guidelines when both peace officers and medics are at the scene of the medical event. It would also impose restrictions on law enforcement officials.

The bill allows medics to administer ketamine for “justifiable” circumstances in the presence of law enforcement after all other “appropriate de-escalation methods have failed,” and after they consult with a physician.

According to the amended bill, “Excited Delirium, any subsequent term for excited delirium, or any acute psychiatric diagnosis not recognized in the most recent addition of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders is not a justifiable emergency.”

There are other requirements too.

If a peace officer is on the scene, a medic is required to weigh the patient before administering ketamine, a weight-based drug, but if that is not possible, the bill requires the medical provider to reach a consensus about the patient’s weight with at least two other medical personnel who are trained in weight assessment.

The medical provider must also attempt to obtain verbal authorization from his or her emergency medical services director  unless there is a “verifiable reason” that they cannot make an outgoing call.

The bill requires medics to have accessible monitoring equipment and to be trained to handle advanced airway support techniques and treatment for respiratory depression.

Law enforcement restrictions

Although law enforcement officials in Colorado do not have access to ketamine and do not administer the drug, the bill also prohibits them from recommending ketamine as a treatment for a patient.

However, the bill allows an officer to provide “critical medical information or any other pertinent information about the information or scene of the emergency that may assist the EMS provider’s assessment of the need to administer ketamine.”

Officers are required by the bill to intervene if they notice another officer attempting to direct a medic to use ketamine.  They must also report the incident to the Peace Officer Standards and Training board.

An officer could lose his or her certification in cases in which a patient dies or suffers significant injuries if they did not intervene.

A medical agency could also lose access to ketamine if a patient dies as a result of the administration.

Law enforcement response

“House Bill 1251 incorrectly presumes law enforcement officials direct medical care when, in fact, the responsibility for determining the advisability of any medical procedure rests solely with the qualified medical provider. Yet this bill places all of the responsibility for the ultimate EMS decision and action solely on law enforcement, with severe consequences when Ketamine is administered,” said Amy Fletcher Faircloth, a spokesperson for the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, the County Sheriffs of Colorado and the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police, in a written statement.

“In addition, the bill’s wording is such that it creates disincentives — in the way of criminal penalties and administrative sanctions — for the sharing of critical information about people experiencing behavioral health crises or medical emergencies,” the statement said.

“When first responders arrive on scene, they all work together to ensure everyone’s safety. This includes ensuring medical professionals can provide proper medical care to patients and that the scene itself is safe for community members, paramedics, firefighters and law enforcement officials. We are opposed to any effort that impedes the teamwork necessary to achieve these important goals,” the statement said.

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