Graphic: Michael Harriot (The Root; photos via iStock)

Veterinarians use it as an animal tranquilizer because it induces a temporary-paralysis-like state of euphoria. Predators have slipped it into the drinks of unsuspecting date rape victims. Psychiatrists have proposed using it to treat depression.

But Minneapolis cops and Emergency Medical Service workers have been secretly conducting a bootleg. unregulated, unscientific clinical trial for ketamine, the drug in question, authorities say. For years, they have coerced emergency medical professionals into injecting suspects with the dangerously powerful sedative, even though many of the suspects have no medical need for the drug.

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According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights quietly circulated a draft report of an investigation by the department’s Office of Police Conduct Review. The report showed that Minneapolis police officers have used trained EMS personnel at the scenes of emergencies to inject suspects with ketamine for nonmedical reasons.

Ketamine is a powerful tranquilizer that has long been used by doctors and veterinarians to maintain anesthesia and to sedate patients. Sold under the brand name Ketalar, it is often referred to as “cat tranquilizer” or “special K,” but its illegal use and dispensation as a medical sedative and depression treatment have grown in recent years.

It induces a trancelike state while providing pain relief, sedation and memory loss, making it perfect for raves, sedation and therapy. As an emergency sedative, the “Clinical Practice Guideline for Emergency Department Ketamine Dissociative Sedation: 2011 Update” suggests that the drug should be used only in cases of “fracture reduction, laceration repair, abscess drainage and medical procedures in the mentally disabled, who are often uncooperative.”

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But Minneapolis’ civil rights investigation discovered that the use of ketamine increased from three incidents in 2012 to 62 times last year by Hennepin Healthcare, which handles Minneapolis’ and Hennepin County, Minn.’s emergency medical services.

After combing through police reports and police video, the investigation found multiple incidents of people who’d stopped breathing and gone into cardiac arrest after receiving the drug from Hennepin’s EMS workers, often at the insistence of police who had no medical training.

“In many cases, the individual being detained or arrested was not only handcuffed, but strapped down on a stretcher in an ambulance before receiving ketamine,” the report notes, adding that some of the people who had been injected with the powerful drug had not committed a crime.

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The report cites one case of police responding to a call for a woman who appeared to be intoxicated. Police sprayed the woman with mace and—despite the fact that video showed the woman did not appear to be resisting officers—when she asked for an asthma pump, the police handcuffed the woman to a stretcher and EMS workers injected her with ketamine instead.

That’s when she stopped breathing.

The woman was eventually resuscitated at the hospital.

“It is also important to note that it appears no crime was committed, no threat to the safety of officer or paramedics was evident, and the individual was located less than six minutes from HCMC [Hennepin County Medical Center] at the time she received a ketamine injection,” the report added.

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Another case detailed four officers and two Hennepin EMS staff responding to a man in the throes of a mental health crisis. The man, described as 5 foot 3 inches to 5 foot 4 inches with a slight build, saw that he was about to be injected with a needle and said, “Whoa, that’s not cool.”

Pleading with the cops and EMS workers, saying, “I don’t need that,” the man was still injected with ketamine, according to the Department of Civil Rights’ account of the police footage. As the man drifted into unconsciousness, one EMS worker asked how much ketamine had been injected. Another EMS worker suggested they dose the unconscious man again.

“You’re my favorite,” a fellow EMS worker replied as they double-dosed the man.

The man stopped breathing and his pulse stopped, only for him to be revived later at the hospital. Again, this was not a criminal suspect. This was a man who was having a mental health crisis.

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“Emergency staff carry it for legitimate reasons,” Dr. Karen Reynolds told The Root when asked why EMS workers carry the powerful drug. “But ketamine should only be administered using their established protocols or after calling the ER on physicians’ order.”

Reynolds, a physician who has worked in emergency and family medicine for decades, says that ketamine is useful but very dangerous. “It can lead to depressed respiration and even arrest,” Reynolds explained. “Police should never have any say in medical treatment.”

Before the civil rights report was issued, Minneapolis police had no policy addressing ketamine, and the only mention of the drug in any department literature was about its use as a “date rape drug.”

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But on May 18, around the time the draft report was completed, Minneapolis Police Cmdr. Todd Sauvageau issued a department-wide order stating that cops should “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.”

Hennepin Healthcare said in a statement Friday: “While a police request for ketamine may occur, the final decision is always made by professional medical personnel,” adding, “Last year, ketamine sedations were used on 0.095 percent of our 81,500 EMS calls for service.”

That’s at least 77 people.

At least.

Perhaps this isn’t a racial issue. After all, the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County might be secretly giving cat tranquilizer to suspects, but that doesn’t mean the victims are disproportionately black.

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Even though the city of Minneapolis is 18 percent black, 57 percent of police-reported uses of force were on black people. Black people made up 59 percent of “low-level arrests” by the Minneapolis Police Department. An American Civil Liberties Union report found that blacks in the city were seven to 16 times more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses than white Minneapolis residents. A recent report found that 46 of the 47 people arrested in marijuana stings by the MPD in 2018 were black.

The small Minneapolis suburb of St. Anthony, Minn., which employed Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who shot Philando Castile, is also located in Hennepin County.

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But you know me ...

I make everything about race.