When suspects start lashing out upon arrest, police officers will sometimes inject them with a drug known as ketamine that is intended to sedate them. But the practice is resulting in increasingly more deaths, and human rights advocates are demanding reform.
While appropriate doses of ketamine can be useful for treating conditions like depression, its administration by police, who are not medical professionals, represents a form of medical assault that can, and often does, lead to tragedy.
Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old black man who last year was stopped by police officers in suburban Denver for suspicious behavior, ended up dying after cops put him a chokehold and forcibly injected him with ketamine. It turns out that law enforcement miscalculated McClain’s weight and gave him too much of the drug, resulting in him suffering cardiac arrest.
McClain, who was also threatened with a dog and stun gun, was given more than 1.5 times the appropriate dose of ketamine, which left him brain dead before later being taken off life support.
Following McClain’s death, the health department in Colorado opened up an investigation into the growing use of ketamine, which was first approved for use in 2013, by American cops to subdue arrested suspects who become unruly.
Disturbingly, no federal standards or other guidelines were ever put into place concerning the proper and safe use of ketamine. Further, individual state policies and reporting requirements are not uniform, meaning there is minimal data about how often the drug is used by cops, and what the outcomes are.
If a cop does not like how a suspect is behaving, ketamine can be blanketly administered to stop “excited delirium”
At the state and local level, guidelines for ketamine use are typically governed by vague qualifications such as “excited delirium” or “agitation,” neither of which are definitive terms with strict diagnosing guidelines.
On top of that, law enforcement officers are not licensed doctors, which means they are not qualified to make such diagnoses while performing arrests. This means that they are making rash decisions in the heat of the moment instead, which is becoming increasingly more problematic from a human rights perspective.
“It’s not at all clear that these people are delirious,” says Dr. Paul S. Appelbaum, director of the Division of Law, Ethics & Psychiatry at Columbia University, further noting that “excited delirium” is little more than a “wastebasket term.”
“Moreover, it seems pretty clear that they’re not all one thing, that this term tends to be applied out in the field by police who are certainly not experts in diagnosis of neuropsychiatric syndromes.”
The very same month that McClain died from a ketamine overdose inflicted by his arresting officers, another Colorado man, 25-year-old Elijah McKnight, suffered a similar fate when he, too, was given a near-deadly dose of ketamine. McKnight ended up having to be placed on a ventilator.
Between 2018 and 2020, there were 902 reported instances of Colorado paramedics administering ketamine to arrested suspects. Nearly 17 percent of them suffered complications as a result, including cardiac arrest and oxygen deprivation.
Other states are also inflicting similar harm by using ketamine during arrests. With no uniform policy concerning its safe use, police and paramedics appear to be jabbing people with random amounts of it, which is putting many lives, including black lives, at risk.
“I always go back to why are we doing the business that we’re doing,” says Chris Burbank, vice president of law enforcement strategy for the Center for Policing Equity and a former Salt Lake City police chief who is suspicious about the continued use of ketamine.
“This goes to traffic stops, this goes to pedestrian stops, this goes to search and seizure. There’s not a need for some of these things.”
Police brutality is a real thing, even if the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is a contrived, racist and Marxist effort to abolish civilized society entirely.
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