Racial Injustice Ketamine Injections

A vial of ketamine, which is normally stored in a locked cabinet, in Chicago.

Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday continued his run of bill signing by enshrining into state law an additional 13 measures approved by lawmakers during the legislative session, ranging from a crackdown on the use of ketamine to an effort to create a more user-friendly search engine to review agency rulemaking.

Polis administratively signed those 13 pieces of legislation after six bill signing ceremonies at Boettcher Mansion and an additional signing event in Evergreen for legislative efforts on health care, the criminal justice system and the environment.

The most prominent measure from the baker’s dozen was House Bill 1251 from Reps. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, and Leslie Herod, D-Denver, and Sens. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, and Julie Gonzales, D-Denver. The bill, inspired in part by the death of Elijah McClain while in the custody of the Aurora Police Department in 2019, prevents law enforcement from directing or “unduly influencing” EMTs to administer the so-called chemical restraint as part of an arrest. The bill also creates reporting requirements for officers who witness a colleague directing an EMT to administer the drug.

In Colorado, it falls to paramedics and not law enforcement to administer ketamine in a non-hospital setting. Other provisions from the bill restrict EMTs ability to administer the drug outside a hospital setting by requiring:

  • An advanced level of training in both administering the drug and in airway support techniques
  • The availability of respiratory and vital monitoring equipment
  • The individual set to receive ketamine to be weighed to ensure proper dosage

“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,” Herod said in a statement after the bill signing. “No longer will law enforcement be able to direct paramedics to administer a potentially deadly drug, especially for a condition of ‘excited delirium,’ the diagnostic validity of which is disputed by medical professionals."

That’s a reference to the justification for administering ketamine to McClain, one Polis noted in a statement after the bill signing.

“A recent American Medical Association policy statement indicated that ‘excited delirium’ is a subjective diagnosis that should not be used until better diagnostic criteria exists,” Polis said. “That is why (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) will place a hold on all ketamine waivers at this time in the setting of excited delirium.”

Polis also pledged the agency would conduct a “robust stakeholder engagement process” in conjunction with an ongoing study on chemical restraints to “improve consumer protections in the EMS system.”

In a joint statement, County Sheriffs of Colorado, the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police and the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police blasted the governor for signing the bill.

"By signing House Bill 1251, Gov. Jared Polis is ignoring the testimony of numerous doctors and emergency medical professionals who said it will chill critical communication among first responders and ultimately hurt patient care," the organizations said. "This new law creates an unprecedented liability for law enforcement officers and may prevent them from sharing necessary information with EMS for fear it may later be perceived as 'directing' EMS’ actions, and result in criminal charges against the officer."

In addition to HB 1251, Polis also administratively signed:

  • House Bill 1209 from Reps. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver, and Lindsey Daugherty, D-Arvada, and Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, expanding the eligibility of a program granting earlier release to those serving a prison sentence for a felony committed before age 21
  • Senate Bill 146 from Lee and Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver, which makes changes to parole eligibility and re-entry requirements for senior and special needs inmates
  • Senate Bill 126 from Fields and Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, and Matt Soper, R-Delta, which caps at 60 days the application process for a doctor seeking to participate in an insurance carrier’s network
  • House Bill 1140 from Rep. Brianna Titone, D-Arvada, and Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, which seeks to eliminate health care costs an organ donor incurs as a result of the procedure;
  • House Bill 1230 from Titone and Rep. Mark Baisley, R-Roxborough Park, and Sens. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, and Rob Woodward, R-Loveland, creating a user-friendly search interface to provide access to agency rulemaking;
  • Senate Bill 284 from Herod, Sens. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, and Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and Rep. Colin Larson, R-Littleton, which will seek to incorporate evidence-based evaluations into the budget writing process
  • Senate Bill 255 from Herod, Titone and Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, creating a $100,000 grant program to providing free menstrual hygiene products for students
  • House Bill 1322 from Titone, Rep. Marc Snyder, D-Manitou Springs, and Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, which eliminates the up to three deferments previously allowed for state motor fuel excise tax
  • House Bill 1279 from Fields and Reps. Mary Young, D-Greeley, and Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, which enters Colorado into the Occupational Therapy Licensure Interstate Compact allowing occupational therapists to practice in multiple states
  • House Bill 1069 from Fields, Reps. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs, and Dylan Roberts, D-Eagle, and Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, which updates state law to take into account how criminal organizations use the internet to promote child exploitation;
  • Senate Bill 88 from Fields, Michaelson Jenet, Soper and Sen. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, which opens a three-year lookback window for legal action against public and private organizations that harbored child sexual abusers
  • House Bill 1297 from Reps. Edie Hooton, D-Boulder, and Perry Will, R-New Castle, and Sens. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Janet Buckner, D-Aurora, which requires health insurers to report on their use of pharmacy benefit managers and puts restrictions on PBM business practices

This article has been updated to include comment from law enforcement groups.

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