June 14, 2021

Congressman Neguse Introduces Legislation to Ban Ketamine Two Years After the Death of Elijah McClain

Washington D.C.— Today, Congressman Joe Neguse, along with Congressman Jerry Nadler, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Chair of the U.S. Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Representatives Jason Crow, Pramila Jayapal and Mondaire Jones introduced new legislation, the Ketamine Restriction Act, to ban the use of ketamine during an arrest or detention, other than in a hospital. 

The bill comes nearly two years after the tragic death of Elijah McClain in Aurora, Colorado. In August 2019, Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, was stopped by Aurora police officers. During the stop, police put him in a chokehold and multiple officers pressed their body weight into him. Paramedics were then called and injected McClain with 500 milligrams of ketamine. After incorrectly estimating his weight, the paramedics administered more than 1.5 times the dose he should have received, according to medical standards. McClain suffered cardiac arrest, was declared brain dead and taken off life support less than a week later.

The Ketamine Restriction Act from Congressman Neguse follows the lead of Colorado state legislation recently passed in the state legislature. At last week’s House Judiciary Committee hearing with FBI Director Christopher Wray, Congressman Neguse asked about the use of ketamine and shared about the bill. View here.

 “In far too many circumstances ketamine is being used to help effectuate arrests without a full appreciation of the health risks,” said Congressman Joe Neguse. “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. Our bill builds on legislation recently passed by the Colorado legislature to enact a federal prohibition on ketamine for arrests and detention, other than at a hospital. This is common-sense and it’s imperative we get it done.”

“Ms. Sheneen McClain strongly supports the federal legislation to ban the use of ketamine for arrest and detention.  This legislation will undoubtedly save the lives of many civilians who would otherwise be subjected to this highly dangerous drug.  The use of ketamine on Elijah McClain contributed to his tragic, senseless, and brutal death.  Ketamine is extremely dangerous and should never be used strictly for law enforcement purposes,” said Qusair Mohamedbhai, an attorney for Ms. McClain, Elijah McClain’s mother. 

“Ketamine is a dangerous and deadly drug that should never be used for law enforcement purposes. Elijah McClain, just 23 years old, lost his life at the direction of law enforcement. The cause of death was not a gunshot wound or a knee on his neck but a lethal dose of ketamine. The Colorado legislature recently sent a bill to the Governor that will prohibit law enforcement from unduly using their influence in using ketamine for detention or arrest,” said Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod. “Too many families have grieved the lives of their loved ones because of excessive use of force. This is a national pandemic, and today, Congressman Neguse's leadership introducing the Ketamine Restriction Act will help reduce stories like Elijah’s and hold law enforcement accountable. In Colorado, we took the first step in restricting its use and I’m proud to work with the Congressman to further our efforts.”

“The use of ketamine in arrests is frequently used irresponsibly, without verifying basic medical information like a patient’s weight, medical history, and other relevant factors. Colorado has already lost far too many lives due to this powerful and dangerous drug and it’s time we put an end to it,” said Colorado State Senator Julie Gonzales. “I was proud to lead the effort in the State Senate to ban ketamine and am grateful for the leadership of Congressman Neguse for introducing federal legislation to ban this drug for arrest and detention nationwide.”

“We must take all appropriate steps to ensure that when arrests are necessary, they are conducted safely for everyone involved,” said Chairman Nadler (D-NY). “I am deeply concerned about the use of ketamine or other chemical restraints during arrests, which can be particularly dangerous if not administered in a health-care setting. That’s why I’m joining Congressman Neguse in introducing legislation that will ban the use of this harmful practice nationwide.” 

“Elijah McClain should still be alive today. While no legislation can bring Back Elijah or ease his family’s pain, we must  learn from this injustice. As a legislator, our community deserves more than my thoughts and prayers, they deserve action. The Ketamine Restriction Act would ban the use of ketamine during arrest and detention and can help prevent future tragedies. I thank Rep. Neguse for his partnership on such important legislation,” said Congressman Jason Crow. 

“The use of ketamine to sedate individuals in police custody is an outdated and unjust practice that must be brought to an end,” said Congressman Mondaire Jones. “Time and again, ketamine has been administered at police direction without a proper medical basis, killing multiple Black men. As we work to reimagine policing in America, we must root out police violence in all its forms, including the use of ketamine as a sedative. I’m proud to join Rep. Neguse and our colleagues in introducing this important legislation to do exactly that.”

“As we continue the critical work to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act through the Senate, we must take additional immediate steps to end police brutality, increase accountability of law enforcement, guarantee justice, and deliver transformative change across our country” said Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. “Prohibiting the use of ketamine during arrest and detention is an urgent matter of civil rights, civil liberties, racial justice, and protecting the lives of those in our communities.”

“We are painfully and tragically aware of what can occur when ketamine is used in police arrest and detention. No family should have to endure such agony. But the reality is that this potentially deadly police practice has had disproportionate impact on the  Black community. It's past time to regulate ketamine in police situations,” said Rosemary Lytle, State President of NAACP CO-MT-WY. “The NAACP Colorado Montana Wyoming State Conference applauds the Colorado Legislature for passing legislation with the goal of ending  this racial injustice. And the NAACP supports Congressman Neguse in proposing companion legislation at the federal level.”

Specifically, the legislation would ensure that no state or local agency could receive Byrne grant funding unless first certifying a prohibition on the use of ketamine for arrest or detention. 

Paramedics across Colorado have sedated people more than 902 times with ketamine in the two and a half years, according to state public health records.

View the bill text here.