Dec 6, 2023 - News

Colorado cuts controversial "excited delirium" diagnosis from law enforcement training

Illustration of an emergency siren with a health symbol as the light.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

"Excited delirium" — a controversial medical term commonly used by first responders — will soon be banned across Colorado law enforcement agencies.

What it means: The term is applied to diagnose suspects who appear to be acutely distressed, hyperactive or aggressive during police encounters.

Why it matters: Excited delirium — which police have used to assert that suspects possessed "superhuman strength" — has been criticized by advocates as racially motivated, unscientific and a way to get officers off the hook for a death on their watch.

Driving the news: This month, the state's Peace Officers Standards and Training board unanimously made the decision to ban state-mandated excited delirium training for all officers.

  • That means, starting in 2024, no law enforcement member can use the term in an official capacity or train on the diagnosis.
  • The board also voted to wipe "cocaine psychosis" and "sudden in-custody death" from all training documents, CPR reports.

Of note: Numerous physician groups, including the National Association of Medical Examiners, have taken a stand against the diagnosis.

Zoom in: Aurora paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec are accused of deviating from the standard protocols in August 2019, when they fatally injected McClain with ketamine after diagnosing him with the condition.

  • Aurora police officers, who arrived first on the scene, had told the two paramedics McClain was exhibiting "crazy" strength.
  • McClain stopped breathing shortly after and died days later.

By the numbers: Across the U.S., more than 225 deaths at the hands of law enforcement have been linked to the term since 2010, a 9News investigation found.

  • Between 2010 and 2020, at least 56% of deaths that occurred in police custody and were attributed to excited delirium involved Black and Latino people, a study by Virginia Law Review found.

The big picture: The term has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, pushing local leaders in other parts of the country to take action.

  • In October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new law prohibiting medical examiners from using the phrase as a cause of death after a fatal police altercation.
  • In March, the Minneapolis City Council banned excited delirium training in a settlement agreement with the state that forced major policing changes to its embattled police department.
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