Aurora, CO

Aurora considers banning use of chemical restraints by medics

David Heitz

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By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Aurora, Colo.) The Aurora City Council at a study session Monday advanced a plan to prohibit the use of chemical restraints by public safety personnel.

Councilmembers Dustin Zvonek and Steve Sundberg voted against the idea, saying it opens the city up to liability. Staff will now put the council’s desires into the form of an ordinance, which the group must vote on twice to become law.

Zvonek earlier expressed concerns the use of sedatives opens the city up to liability. Dr. Eric Hill, Aurora Fire Rescue medical director, said not having any sedative to use on combative patients violates medical standards.

Hill explained that when someone is combative but a medic believes their life is in danger, the medic is obligated to treat the patient. The sedative allows the medic to treat the patient without injury, Hill said.

But councilmember Ruben Medina wondered why physical restraints cannot be used on combative patients. He noted people who break their necks are strapped to a board, for example, so they don’t move around. Hill said some patients can still manage to punch a medic in the face while physically constrained. Hill said using physical restraints also comes with liability risks.

City’s 400-plus union medics ‘scared’

“Our members are scared, they don’t know what to do,” said Travis Pulliam, president of the medics union. “They’re damned if they do and they’re damned if they don’t.”

Councilmembers Danielle Jurinsky and Curtis Gardner brought forth a proposal to specifically ban the introduction of Droperidol as use as a chemical sedative. But council members went further and said they want to ban Versed (midazolam), too, which already is used.

Aurora has made national headlines for the death of Elijah McClain. He died after Aurora Fire Rescue administered Ketamine to calm him. Two firefighters face 11 criminal accounts in connection with his death including criminally negligent homicide.

Jurinsky said Aurora’s 400 medics live in terror it could happen to them, too. She said she could not fathom why the city would continue to put medics at risk of criminal charges. Aurora stopped using Ketamine, which Hill said the state still deems safe. He said he does not believe the firefighters should be held responsible for McClain’s death.

Police no longer can order sedation

A distinction was drawn during the discussion about when Droperidol is ordered. Hill said it is not OK for police to tell firefighters to inject someone so they can better manage them. “You should never use a chemical sedative for a law enforcement purpose.”

Jurinsky noted that production of Droperidol ceased for several years. Hill admitted it was found unsafe in high doses for people with rare heart conditions. But he said Versed also is risky. A benzodiazepine, it interacts poorly with people intoxicated by alcohol and suppresses breathing. It also can be dangerous when used on people with head injuries.

Councilmember Dustin Zvonek wanted to amend the proposal to require medics to call ahead to a hospital before administering Droperidol or Versed. But Gardner said that’s not a realistic requirement in emergency situations.

Hill said first responders in Aurora use sedatives on combative patients about 13 times per month.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

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