Colorado local governments could lose millions in federal dollars for policing and criminal justice if they don’t ban the use of ketamine during arrests if a bill introduced by a Colorado congressman becomes law.
The bill, introduced Monday by Rep. Joe Neguse, is the most recent attempt to regulate the use of the powerful sedative by paramedics. The 2019 death of Elijah McClain at the hands of Aurora police and paramedics after being injected with a too-large dose of ketamine has brought scrutiny to the use of the drug during arrests in Colorado and across the country.
Neguse’s bill would prohibit state and local governments from receiving money from two federal grant programs focused on policing and crime reduction if they do not ban the use of ketamine during arrests and detentions. The proposed law also would outlaw the use of ketamine during arrests connected to federal crimes.
“In far too many circumstances ketamine is being used to help effectuate arrests without a full appreciation of the health risks,” Neguse, a Democrat who represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, said. “The tragic death of Elijah McClain in Colorado underscores the clear need to rethink the use of this drug in cases of arrest and detention to ensure nothing like this ever happens again to a member of our community.”
The grant program documents show that Colorado agencies received $4.2 million in 2020 through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program and at least $3.6 million from the Community Oriented Policing Services program.
Last year, the Community Oriented Policing Services money awarded to Colorado agencies funded projects connected to school security, community policing and policing on tribal lands.
Colorado has gone without money from the the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program before. President Donald Trump’s administration withheld about $5.5 million from the state in 2018 and 2019 to pressure the state to change its immigration practices.
The federal bill builds on legislation passed by Colorado state lawmakers that limits when and how ketamine can be used outside of hospitals. That bill, which awaits the governor’s signature, fell short of banning the use of the drug, which is the change McClain’s mother wants.
The federal legislation “will undoubtedly save the lives of many civilians who would otherwise be subjected to this highly dangerous drug,” Qusair Mohamedbhai, Sheneen McClain’s attorney, said in a statement.
The American Medical Association on Monday adopted a policy opposing “excited delirium” as a medical diagnosis and said ketamine should not be used on an agitated individual in a law enforcement setting without a legitimate medical reason. Excited delirium is an extreme form of agitation and is controversial in the medical field. Paramedics injected McClain with ketamine because police officers believed he was showing symptoms of excited delirium.
Ninety-two emergency medical agencies have permission from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to use ketamine to treat agitated people in the field. The drug is used in that manner hundreds of times a year, department data shows.
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