Elijah McClain was a 23-year-old man who died during an arrest that took place in the Denver suburb of Aurora. Two paramedics were called to the scene by police, for the purpose of sedating him. They administered ketamine. Not long afterwards, he died.
In a rare decision, the paramedics were found guilty of criminally negligent homicide, a type of involuntary manslaughter.
Here’s a link that contains a video of the incident itself.
The two men had administered “…a large amount of the powerful sedative ketamine to McClain, who had been violently subdued by police, despite not speaking with him or checking his vital signs.”
The dose was excessive, especially in view of his modest size, and the fact he was being forcibly restrained by officers at the time.
The defense argued that the victim had exhibited “excited delirium.” That’s a hard sell nowadays, since the concept and the term have been heavily criticized by experts in both the medical and legal establishments.
Worse yet, the video evidence does not appear to confirm their claim that McClain was delirious at the time. Instead, we hear him beg for air, protesting that he can’t breathe.
It’s true that paramedics are usually protected from criminal charges for events that occur in the line of duty — provided they followed the recommended protocol. In this case, they didn’t. However, it sounds as if they weren’t overly concerned at the time.
“During our training, we were told numerous times that this is a safe, effective drug,” testified one. Nonetheless, a pathologist confirmed that McClain had been suffering from lack of oxygen — a good reason not to administer a powerful anesthetic.
Now, a second fatality has hit the headlines. The death of Matthew Perry has already drawn an enormous amount of media attention. Weeks afterwards, we finally have the medical examiner’s report.
It points the finger squarely at ketamine. In combination with buprenorphine, an opioid, and several other substances that may have influenced the outcome.
Quoting from the report: “At the high levels of ketamine found in his postmortem blood specimens, the main lethal effects would be from both cardiovascular overstimulation and respiratory depression.” Perry had been relaxing in his hot tub, and it’s likely he simply lost consciousness, slipped under the surface of the water, and drowned.
So, there we have it — two deaths, both recent, both heavily publicized, both related to ketamine. In the first case, via overdose by paramedics. In the second, probably the result of a combination of drugs, and the ketamine found in the victim’s system was almost certainly self-administered.
Ironically, Perry had written before about his attraction to ketamine, even over the array of other substances he’d tried during his long career as a drug user. Given that background, I imagine getting hold of some illegally presented no real challenge. Rumor has it several of his associates had procured it for him in the past.
Which brings up the question of whether Matthew Perry was ever truly drug-free for any significant period. Some who knew him insist he was. Others say no.
My take: at some point, America is going to have to stop twiddling its collective thumbs and take ketamine seriously as a drug of abuse.