Aurora bans emergency responders’ use of ketamine until Elijah McClain investigation complete

Aurora City Council on Monday banned the city’s emergency responders from using ketamine until an independent investigation into the death of Elijah McClain is complete.

The council voted unanimously to temporarily stop paramedics’ use of the powerful sedative, which Aurora paramedics injected into McClain after he was violently detained by police last year.

“I think it makes sense to take a pause,” Councilman Curtis Gardner, who sponsored the resolution, said.

Questions about how the drug contributed to McClain’s death remain unanswered because the Adams County Coroner’s Office could not determine the cause or manner of his death. The autopsy stated the level of ketamine in McClain’s blood was at a “therapeutic level,” despite paramedics overestimating his weight, but the coroner did not rule out an unexpected side effect of the drug as a contributor to his death.

The temporary ban in Aurora won’t go into effect until Aurora Fire Rescue has time to rewrite its protocols and train its staff on those changes, Gardner said. The ban will stay in play for 30 days after the investigation led by an outside attorney is complete.

“It’s only right to suspend the use of it until if and when it is determined to be safe,” Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman said during the City Council meeting Monday.

McClain’s death and a surge of international attention to the case during the summer’s protests of police brutality have brought increased scrutiny to the use of ketamine by paramedics on agitated people in a non-hospital setting. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which issues waivers to departments so they can use the sedative in that manner, in July reopened an investigation into McClain’s case and, in September, into the use of the substance by paramedics statewide. Paramedics have used ketamine in an EMS setting more than 900 times in the past three years, according to the department.

City Council is expected to hear more proposed changes regarding the use of ketamine and other sedatives in an emergency setting in the future, members of the council said.

“We will as a Public Safety Committee will continue to have these conversations,” said Councilwoman Allison Hiltz, chair of that committee.

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