City leaders respond to report on ketamine use

Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo on Monday called for an independent, third-party investigation into reports of paramedics being urged to use the sedative ketamine on people detained by police.

The call followed a widely read Star Tribune report that raised questions about the interactions between police and emergency medical services personnel. The newspaper reportedly obtained a copy of a draft report by the city’s Office of Police Conduct Review that examined the use of ketamine by Hennepin Healthcare and North Memorial Medical Center EMS crews over three years, describing several cases when the drug was administered to people who were already restrained and instances when use of the drug caused serious heart and breathing problems.

The police department in May issued a memo to officers clarifying that, while police may request the use of ketamine, medical personnel have the final call, according to the Star Tribune and a statement released by Hennepin Healthcare, formerly Hennepin County Medical Center. According to Hennepin Healthcare, EMS crews have used ketamine since 2008 to treat “excited delirium,” a medical condition that poses a threat to both the patient and first responders, and that EMS personnel began raising concerns in April about their interactions with police.

“To preserve public trust and ensure an impartial process — one free of any interference, intentional or otherwise — we will contract with an independent third party to provide the needed expertise to compliment the draft report’s findings. The people of Minneapolis deserve transparency from their government,” Frey and Arradondo said in the joint statement. “Contracting with a trusted expert will help ensure that public and all parties involved have a full understanding of what happened during the relevant activity between 2015 and 2017.”

Earlier that same day, during a meeting of the City Council’s Public Health, Environment, Civil Rights and Engagement Committee, council members Phillipe Cunningham and Jeremy Schroeder said they were “appalled” by the draft study’s findings. The committee, chaired by Cunningham, voted to direct Office of Police Conduct Review staff to complete their study and report back to the Council by July 26.

“I think we as elected officials have to remember that we defend the people of this city, not the city itself. And when these things are happening, we need to take action quickly,” Schroeder said.

Council members also called for an independent review of the study, which Cunningham said was meant to “increase transparency” for the public and did not reflect a lack of faith in city staff.

Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, who is not a member of the committee but joined the meeting, said the draft report raised two important questions. The first was about the actions of Minneapolis police officers, he said.

“But then there’s the other part that’s equally as troubling, that we don’t have purview over, and that is the county’s role,” Ellison said, adding that he hoped the county would look closely at the actions of paramedics.

In its June 15 statement, Hennepin Healthcare noted the results of one survey that found ketamine was carried by about a third of EMS crews nationwide. The hospital said that was “largely because of the research published on its safety and that it results in saving lives.”

“We only recently saw a copy of the draft report and met with the city to express concerns about what we believe are significant inaccuracies, based on limited interactions that were taken out of context,” the statement read. “Our concern is that misrepresentation about the use of ketamine could potentially set back improvements in how we care for profoundly agitated patients.”

Applied in hospital settings as an anaesthetic, ketamine can cause hallucinations and impair a patient’s ability to think, according to the Mayo Clinic. It is also used illegally as a recreational drug sometimes referred to as “special K.”

According to Hennepin Healthcare, the draft study included details of four instances when ketamine was used by its EMS crews. The hospital reviewed those cases, determining all four followed protocol and were “medically justified.” The hospital plans to have the Quality Committee of the Hennepin County EMS Council conduct a separate review of those cases.