By Logan Smith

(CBS4) — A committee of medical professionals will examine a program that currently allows emergency personnel to inject a sedative into agitated or aggressive people they come in contact with, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced Saturday.

The committee will consist of emergency room doctors, anesthesiologists, pharmacists, ambulance service providers, and others. CDPHE’s Chief Medical Officer will oversee it.

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At issue is the safety of ketamine’s use outside of a hospital, the department stated in a press release. Agencies can apply for permission that allows their field personnel to administer ketamine in emergency medical situations. Hundreds are currently approved. They include law enforcement agencies, fire departments, search and rescue teams, ambulances services (including medical helicopter crews), SWAT teams, prisoner transport companies, state park rangers, ski patrols, and private medical contractors working at professional sports venues.

All received “waivers” from the state to use the drug in emergency situations.


“Today I am calling for the immediate and thorough review of the state’s ketamine waiver program,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director, CDPHE. “Our agency will work with medical experts to study the use of ketamine in the field – as well as the state’s oversight mechanisms – and produce a public report. Patient safety and program transparency are top priorities.”

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Elijah McClain

Elijah McClain (credit: Mari Newman)

Ketamine has been widely used clinically since 1970, but use by first responders recently came under public scrutiny following the death of a 23-year-old Aurora man in August of 2019. It was then that officers from the Aurora Police Department responded to a suspicious circumstances call, encountered Elijah McClain walking home, and took him into custody. A struggle ensued.

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A still image from the police bodycam video during the 2019 struggle between APD officers and Elijah McClain. (credit: City of Aurora)

McClain was given a 500mg dose of ketamine. The drug was provided by ambulance personnel and administered by paramedics from the Aurora fire department.

McClain passed away six days later.

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Aurora Fire Rescue and Falck Rocky Mountain, the two involved in the McClain case, are both listed among those agencies receiving waivers from the state.

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The state health department had announced in late July of this year that it was investigating complaints regarding the administering of ketamine to McClain. Saturday’s announcement expands the scope of the review committee’s purview over the entire waiver program.

“A condition of the ketamine waiver program requires medical directors to report to the department for every waivered ketamine administration,” CDPHE stated in its press release. “In the past 3 years, it has been used 902 times for excited delirium and/or extreme or profound agitation.”

The committee is scheduled to conduct its review over 12 weeks. It will then issue a final report.

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Monday is the one-year anniversary of McClain’s encounter with police.

Logan Smith