The Colorado House Judiciary Committee passed House Bill 21-1251, which would limit the use of ketamine outside a hospital setting, on a 7-to-4 vote on April 28. It now goes to the House for a vote.
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, and Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, would restrict the use of the sedative ketamine in the field by paramedics without specific procedures. It also would prohibit law enforcement from directing a paramedic to chemically incapacitate someone by administering ketamine for the purpose of restraint.
Among other changes, the bill requires a law enforcement officer to intervene and report to the Peace Officer Standards Training board if they see another officer using ketamine on someone. The bill would label this usage excessive use of force and could lead to revocation of an officer’s POST certification if the incident results in death.
Ketamine played a role in the death of Elijah McClain, 23, who was stopped by Aurora Police officers in August 2019 because someone reported he looked "sketchy." McClain, who weighed about 140 pounds, was given enough ketamine for a person 50 pounds heavier. He died three days later and has become a symbol of police brutality involving Black people and a central figure in the debate over ketamine.
The drug also was the culprit in the Sept. 25, 2020, death of Colorado Springs man, Hunter Barr, 26, who became unruly after taking LSD — which we reported in our April 21 cover story that explored his death, ketamine usage and the national debate over the drug's potential toxicity.
Toxic effects of ketamine was listed as the cause of death in Barr's autopsy report, which later was amended to also cite ketamine's interaction with LSD.
“Elijah McClain should still be alive today, and he’s not the only one whose life has been taken by the misuse of ketamine at a scene with law enforcement,” Herod is quoted in a release as saying at the April 28 committee hearing, during which also mentioned Barr's case. “We can’t allow the prehospital use of these drugs to go unchecked, and I’m glad we were able to come to a solution that works for Colorado.... Passing this bill will help keep people safe and ensure that people are treated humanely by law enforcement. It’s the right thing to do.”
Caraveo, who's a medical doctor, said in a release, “As a physician, I know that ketamine can have devastating, even deadly, consequences if used incorrectly. We shouldn’t be using these drugs lightly, especially outside of a hospital setting where a patient’s weight, medical history and other relevant factors are unknown. The bill we advanced today will make law enforcement interactions safer and hopefully prevent tragedies like the ones we heard about in committee today.”