Florida EMTs Using Ketamine To Restrain Violent Patients On Flakka

By McCarton Ackerman 03/10/16

The growing popularity of flakka in South Florida has become a major challenge for local first responders. 

Florida Paramedics Using Ketamine To Restrain Violent Patients On Flakka
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Some Florida EMS departments are taking an unusual approach to dealing with violent patients who are high on flakka: arming paramedics with ketamine.

The latest fire and rescue department in the state to start utilizing ketamine, Indian River County Fire and EMS, announced last week that paramedics will be trained on how to administer ketamine and equipped with the drug within the next two weeks. Local officials said they plan to only use ketamine on patients who are high on flakka and show signs of aggression. 

The thigh injection can sedate a patient within a minute. "It will knock them out, but it won't hurt them in any way, shape or form," battalion Chief Cory Richter told WPBF 25. "It will allow us to treat them and get them to the hospital, and it keeps our guys safe."

Richter noted that patients who are high on flakka pose a danger to paramedics because the drug gives them superhuman strength and also makes them resistant to pain. In recent months, Indian River County has had several serious incidents involving flakka—including a man who crashed his car into a local jail and then tried to climb a barbed wire fence, and a female inmate who used her handcuffs to try and choke an officer.

Other local EMS departments in Florida have also started using ketamine to subdue aggressive flakka patients. The city of Plantation began placing vials of ketamine on all of their rescue trucks, but reported only needing to use them roughly once per month. Local officials say ketamine is more effective than other drugs because it doesn’t affect the person’s respiratory system or heart rate.

“If a police officer’s Taser does not stop them, something needs to stop them,” Lt. Daniel Tringali of the Plantation Fire Department told CBS Miami last July. 

It was reported last summer that over an eight month period, 27 people had died from flakka-related overdoses in Broward County alone. The drug has been outpacing cocaine in terms of popularity in South Florida, largely because a dose costs as little as $5. However, its effects can be particularly long-lasting; first-time users may take three or four days to return to a normal mental state, while habitual users may need 14 to 16 days.

In response, the DEA is now trying to permanently ban flakka. The most common compounds in flakka have been under a temporary ban since 2013, but an attempt is now being a made to place the chemicals under Schedule I classification—drugs in this class are defined as having a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical benefits.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.