Almost 3 years after Elijah McClain’s death, Aurora medics ready to use new sedative

FILE – This photo shows a vial of ketamine, which is normally stored in a locked cabinet, July 25, 2018 in Chicago. Colorado’s health department says emergency workers should not use a condition involving erratic behavior by people as a reason to inject them with the drug ketamine. Most states and ambulance agencies can use ketamine when people exhibit the condition called excited delirium. Aurora officials are now recommending a new sedative. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford, File)

AURORA | Aurora Fire Rescue says its medics will soon be supplied with a new sedative that could be safer to use in situations where subjects are having trouble breathing.

The antipsychotic medication droperidol is commonly used by U.S. paramedics as a sedative. It does not have the same potential to cause breathing difficulties as ketamine, which experts said Elijah McClain was given an overdose of before his death, or midazolam, a slower-acting sedative that the agency uses now.

The agency’s medical director, Eric Hill, said Thursday during a meeting of the Aurora City Council’s public safety committee that the antipsychotic may be a better fit for situations where patients have consumed alcohol or sustained a head injury.

“There is no one, ideal medication that is always the best medication,” he said. “The changes to the protocol are not … changing the philosophy or the protocols for who needs to be sedated. It’s always been the same thing. When you cannot manage any other way, and you have to render aid to that patient in a safe way, that’s what those medications are for.”

During the controversy that followed McClain’s death Aurora Fire Rescue stopped administering ketamine, opting instead to use midazolam, with every use reviewed by the agency’s medical director after the fact.

Screen shot from Aurora Police press conference and body cam video regarding the officer-involved death of Elijah McClain

McClain was tranquilized after being confronted by an Aurora police officer in August 2019 while walking home from a convenience store. The stop escalated into police wrestling McClain to the ground and placing him in a choke hold. Firefighters then tranquilized him. He suffered cardiac arrest and died days later, having never regained consciousness.

An assessment of whether McClain was suffering an episode of “excited delirium syndrome” – a controversial diagnosis that some experts dispute – is part of a pending criminal case against the medics who attended McClain.

When evaluating whether to use a sedative on a patient whose life is in danger but whose behavior is making them unsafe to treat, Hill said firefighters first determine whether the person is able to decide for themselves if they need treatment or not. 

If a person can’t make that decision — due to intoxication or mental health problems, for example — firefighters would try to de-escalate the situation verbally first. If that did not work, only then would they administer a sedative, Hill said.

Hill said the firm hired to monitor a court-mandated rollout of police and fire reforms in the city, IntegrAssure, had reached out to an outside medical consultant who approved of Aurora Fire Rescue’s plans to use droperidol.

Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky, however, said during the committee meeting that she was uncomfortable with the idea of firefighters being exposed to liability by being expected to inject any sedatives, remarking on the criminal charges facing AFR medics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, including manslaughter and criminally-negligent homicide, for administering ketamine to McClain.

She said she’d prefer to see decisions about sedation left up to the city’s ambulance provider, Falck Rocky Mountain.

“I just am having a really hard time talking about our Aurora firefighters injecting anybody with anything while we have two up for murder (sic) right now, and in fact, I wish that Falck would go ahead and deal with this because I would like to see all of our firefighters and all of our police officers go home at night every night,” she said.

Both Aurora Fire Rescue vehicles and Falck private ambulances are regularly dispatched to crime and accident scenes in Aurora.

“I stand firm that we should not have our firefighters injecting anyone with anything right now, and I would encourage all firefighters to not do that,” Jurinsky said.

She also said the local firefighters’ union opposed the rollout of droperidol; a union representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Aurora Fire Rescue spokeswoman Sherri-Jo Stowell later wrote in an email that the agency does not have a set timeline for putting the drug into use. She said firefighters are looking into ways of educating the community about the drug first and that fire leadership will discuss the new protocols and community input before it’s rolled out.

3.7 3 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 month ago

Jurinsky is horrible. You want to see all the firefighters go home at the end of the night – literally everyone wants that, lady, calm down. And guess what – the police officers and paramedics who murdered Elijah McClain with beatings and sedatives are STILL going home at the end of every night while Elijah will never go home again. And she’s fine with Falck EMTs not going home at the end of the night, I guess, if this is just about liability?

Anyone, whether it is police or firefighters or EMTs or teachers or doctors or janitors or cowboys, shouldn’t be allowed to use sedatives to make it more convenient to subdue them for arrest. It shouldn’t matter if it’s ketamine or droperidol or crushed up Xanax on a lawn dart – it’s ethically an unacceptable use of sedatives and mind-altering substances to administer them to someone against their will because you want to change their behavior. The only reason these drugs should be injected into the veins of a person is if they have consented OR if a medical professional determines it is MEDICALLY necessary to keep that person alive until they can make further decisions about their health. And the EMT or medical professional should never have to make that professional and medical decision under coercion from a police officer. The purpose of medicines is to treat medical ailments, not to empower police and firefighters who haven’t been trained to handle a conflict without drugs.

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
1 month ago

Elijah McClain was a gentle soul brutally attacked by police and no tranquilizer was needed at all. He was a slight figure who did not resist, and quietly begged not to be hurt. Aurora (Arapahoe Co) police joked about his death later and tried to cover it all up. The problem is the racist police with a history of brutality against POC in Aurora, and continued resistence to better recruitment and training, and ferreting out those who must be fired. Recently Aurora fired the female head of police who was trying to have the order to reform for police instituted, and put back previous man who has no interest in seeing reform. AG Weiser is working to make the police respond to order to reform, but efforts to resist by police are really sad and discouraging.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago

Agree 100%.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago

It wasn’t what they used, it was the amount of it. I believe ketamine is safe if used properly. There was just callous disregard for the poor man’s life. I’m sure they could just as easily give too much of the new sedative and kill someone also.