CO Law Limiting Ketamine Use Signed into Law

FILE - In this July 25, 2018, file photo, is a vial of ketamine, which is normally stored in a locked cabinet, in Chicago.
FILE - In this July 25, 2018, file photo, is a vial of ketamine, which is normally stored in a locked cabinet, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford, File)

Alex Burness

The Denver Post

The death of Aurora’s Elijah McClain spurred national calls for restrictions on first responders’ use of chemical restraints. His death also led to a new Colorado state law.

Signed Tuesday by Gov. Jared Polis, HB21-1251 bans police officers from directing paramedics and other medical professionals to use ketamine on someone. It requires those professionals to weigh people (or make a weight estimate confirmed by at least two other experts) before injecting someone with ketamine. The law also bars medical providers from using ketamine to subdue someone suspected of criminal behavior except in a justifiable medical emergency.

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All these changes are directly inspired by McClain, who was violently arrested by police in 2019 and injected by paramedics who estimated his weight at 220 pounds. In fact, he only weighed 140 pounds, suffered cardiac arrest and was declared brain dead. He was later taken off life support.

In a statement, Polis said that chemical restraints like ketamine should be used only in “true medical emergencies” and police should not try to influence paramedics’ decision-making. He also noted the American Medical Association’s position that “excited delirium” is diagnosed subjectively — further reason, he said, for caution by first responders.

“That is why (the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) will place a hold on all ketamine waivers at this time in the setting of excited delirium” and release research findings on the topic later this summer, Polis added.

An initial version of this law proposed limitations on other drugs, and lawmakers said they considered banning ketamine instead of just restricting it. The bill was amended several times as it moved through the Capitol.

Denver Democratic Rep. Leslie Herod, a lead bill sponsor, said she thinks the final version is in a good place.

“We took a significant step forward in our state to improve policing and end the misuse of ketamine, which has had dangerous and deadly consequences for Coloradans,” she said in a statement.

This is one part of a broad package of laws on policing and public safety passed by the Democrats who run the state legislature this year. Several others in that package were also signed Tuesday.

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