Just Drug ‘Em

The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) can’t keep itself away from controversy. Fortunately, the latest controversy doesn’t involve another unarmed person being gunned down. Instead it involves people being drugged against their will, oftentimes without any crimes being committed:

Minneapolis police officers have repeatedly requested over the past three years that Hennepin County medical responders sedate people using the powerful tranquilizer ketamine, at times over the protests of those being drugged, and in some cases when no apparent crime was committed, a city report shows.


The number of documented ketamine injections during Minneapolis police calls increased from three in 2012 to 62 last year, the report found, including four uses on the same person. On May 18, around the time the draft report was completed, Minneapolis police Cmdr. Todd Sauvageau issued a departmental order saying that officers “shall never suggest or demand EMS Personnel ‘sedated’ a subject. This is a decision that needs to be clearly made by EMS Personnel, not MPD Officers.”

This story involves two groups of bad actors. The first group is the usual suspects, MPD officers. The second group are the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel who administer the drugs simply because an MPD officer asked them.

Not surprisingly, both MPD and the EMS people involved have issued statements that absolve themselves of responsibility. MPD at least tried to smooth things over by announced that it has put a new policy in place. While new department policies seldom change actual behavior, it’s a step better than the shut up slaves statement given by Hennepin EMS Medical Director Jeffrey Ho:

The draft report prompted sharply different reactions among local officials. A statement included in the report from Hennepin EMS Medical Director Jeffrey Ho and Minnesota Poison Control System Medical Director Jon Cole dismissed the findings of the report as a “reckless use of anecdotes and partial snapshots of interactions with police, and incomplete information and statistics to draw uninformed and incorrect conclusions.”

“This draft report will prevent the saving of lives by promoting the concept of allowing people to exhaust themselves to death,” Cole and Ho wrote.

Pro tip: if you’re going to claim that a report is based on anecdotal and partial information and are in a position to provide the information that supports your claim, you should release that information. Failing to do so makes it look like your statement is nothing more than an attempt to cover your ass.

The fact that MPD requested the sedation of a subject isn’t the real red flag of this story. There are circumstances where sedating somebody is the best option for everybody involved, including the suspect. However, the rapid increase in the number of sedations is a red flag. Going from three in 2012 to 62 in 2017 is a drastic increase in just five years. Statements from officials and policy changes aren’t going to answer the important question of why was there such a dramatic increase?

2 thoughts on “Just Drug ‘Em”

  1. Mark Twain once said, “A lie can get half-way around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” Nothing illustrates this axiom more perfectly than the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s series of articles concerning the use of Ketamine in the pre-hospital setting here in the Twin Cities.

    I worked as a paramedic for 36 years in Minneapolis and have administered Ketamine in the pre-hospital setting.

    Ketamine is widely used as a quick, safe and effective way to sedate those in the throes of a mental health crisis or chemical intoxication where the patient is a danger to themselves or others. These are medical emergencies. These are patients and not criminal suspects.

    The danger is sudden cardiac arrest due to continued and uncontrollable strenuous physical activity. There are well documented instances where people have died in such circumstances due to metabolic acidosis. It has now been shown, by medical studies, that death can be averted by prompt chemical sedation.

    It is common to sedate those already restrained due to their continued struggles even when escape is hopeless. In fact it is a really good indication that sedation is needed.

    The need for sedation of some patients, whether in the hospital or in the field is not controversial. In the pre-hospital setting the choices historically have been Haldol, Versed or a combination of the two. The addition of Ketamine over the past few years has given medical personnel an option that is quicker acting, shorter in duration of effect, and fewer serious side effects.

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