End The Use of Ketamine in Police Settings

By: Nia Faith


Elijah McClain died at the age of 23 following a lethal administration of ketamine during an interaction with law enforcement. Elijah was walking home from a local grocery store when law enforcement officers approached him. He was not armed and had not committed any crimes. What ensued was an ultimately fatal interaction with police, who forcefully restrained him until paramedics arrived on the scene and injected him with 500 milligrams of ketamine, nearly twice the amount appropriate for a person of his size and weight (Oritz, 2020). Minutes later, Elijah went into cardiac arrest and was put on life support for under a week before passing away (Oritz, 2020). His death was a direct result of the ketamine injection.  


So, what is ketamine? It’s an anesthetic sedative that is most commonly used on animals during veterinary surgery and, less commonly, on humans to induce unconsciousness (CAMH, 2021). Side effects of ketamine include amnesia, hallucinations, difficulty breathing, and in high doses, death (CAMH, 2021). According to Canada’s Center for Addiction and Mental Health, ketamine has severe long-term effects including memory loss and a rapid heart rate which causes an increased risk of heart attacks (CAMH, 2021)


Elijah McClain is not the only person to have been forcibly injected with this dangerous drug during interactions with law enforcement. Unfortunately, the use of ketamine in police settings is more widespread than you may think. In July of 2020, Max Johnson was also injected with ketamine when his girlfriend called 911 after seeing him seizing in their living room. She wrote on Instagram that “because of the ketamine, Max was on a ventilator in the ICU for a tortuous 2 days” (CAMH, 2021). Max may not have survived this ordeal if it was not for the pre-anesthetic drug given to him by EMS to prevent the dangerous side effects of ketamine (Washington-Harmon, 2020). Pre-anesthetics, however, are not always administered prior to ketamine in interactions with law enforcement. 


In 2020, Minnesota paramedic, Joseph Baker, filed a lawsuit alleging that police officers tried to force him to administer ketamine during an arrest (Varagur, 2020). Medical physician, Mark Pappadakis explained that ketamine should not be used by police or EMTs because “without proper monitoring or training, it can be very deadly” (Washington-Harmon, 2020). Anesthesiologist, Glen Brooks said, “I don’t think EMTs should be using ketamine at all and I’m not sure why it would be used in the field. Valium or Ativan would work better” (Washington-Harmon, 2020). When discussing the use of drugs with lethal side effects, we must rely on medical science to inform the usage guidelines and restrictions, not the opinions of law enforcement officers. Ketamine is a drug with dangerous consequences and should be reserved for veterinary and medical anesthetic purposes, never to sedate someone during an interaction with law enforcement.  


  • Ketamine has side effects that can cause a variety of symptoms from amnesia to death 
  • The drug should not be used in police settings, especially when researchers have found that other drugs such as Valium and Ativan are more effective and less dangerous. 
  • To ensure that we can prevent further deaths by ketamine, we must advocate for use of the drug for law enforcement purposes to be banned 

To access and sign the petition to end Ketamine usage in police settings click "Go to Petition"