AURORA, Colo. — The City of Aurora banned the use of ketamine after the death of Elijah McClain nearly three years ago, but now first responders will likely have a new sedative to administer to patients in highly agitated states.
On Thursday, Dr. Eric Hill, medical director of the Aurora Medical Center, discussed with city leaders the possibility that Aurora Fire Rescue would soon add the drug droperidol to its paramedics' medical tool kit. The drug would be used during situations when ketamine would have been administered in the past.
“It’s been heavily used in EMS for 30 to 40 years,” Hill said of the drug. “Every Denver metro agency uses this approach as well.”
McClain died Aug. 30, 2019, after he went into cardiac arrest while in police custody. He was put into a chokehold by police and administered ketamine by paramedics on scene.
After the city banned the sedative, a grand jury indicted three of the police officers and two paramedics. They now face criminal charges in McClain’s death.
Due to this, Aurora Councilwoman Danielle Jurinsky wondered if it was appropriate to introduce a new sedative.
“I just have a really hard time talking about our Aurora firefighters injecting anyone with anything while we have two up for murder right now,” she said.
Droperidol is a fast-acting sedative that serves as a tranquilizer. It is also useful to treat nausea. It is different from ketamine, which is an anesthetic.
The drug does have a black box warning from 2001 due to some cardiac issues among some patients.
Denver7 Investigates spoke to two medical experts, who both said Droperidol is safe when used appropriately.
“This drug is fairly safe, meaning that it is very rare that the drug, when utilized in that appropriate context, will have side effects,” said Dr. Ben Lawner, medical director for the Baltimore Fire Department.
Dr. Chris Colwell is chief of medicine at San Francisco General Hospital and the former medical director of Denver Health. He said he uses Droperidol 70% to 80% of the time when a sedative is needed in an EMS setting.
He added that the black box warning stemmed from cases where patients were administered much higher doses than commonly given during an EMS call.
Colwell also said he felt sedatives were safer than police restraint, and that he feels it’s an important tool to have.
“To not have the ability to appropriately sedate a patient when that is necessary, I think really does represent a risk to those patients and to providers, and, in some cases, to the public and others as well,” he said.
In a statement, Aurora Fire Rescue said leadership will "discuss the protocol change and the input we have received before adding the medication to our system."
"Adding a new sedative medication to the Aurora Fire Rescue EMS Protocols is something we want to be extremely thoughtful about. We are working with the Consent Decree Monitor, their subject matter medical expert, their Community Advisory Council and local stakeholders in Aurora to facilitate dialogue and create opportunities for education before adding this new medication, Droperidol, to our protocols.
Once added, it will align our department with many others in the metro area that already have this medication in their protocols. Aurora Fire Rescue leadership will discuss the protocol change and the input we have received before adding the medication to our system."