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AP Investigation Reveals Dangers of Sedatives Given to Police Detainees

The practice of giving sedatives to people detained by police spread quietly across the nation over the last 15 years, built on questionable science and backed by police-aligned experts, an investigation led by The Associated Press has found. At least 94 people died after they were given sedatives and restrained by police from 2012 through 2021, according to findings by the AP in collaboration with FRONTLINE (PBS) and the Howard Centers for Investigative Journalism.


Rather than use force to try to gain compliance, officers are encouraged to call emergency medical services for sedation. The use of sedatives by emergency medical responders outside hospitals has spread rapidly over the last two decades. But the AP found that when police detained agitated individuals facedown, handcuffed, and with pressure on their backs, paramedics sometimes worsened the situation by administering sedatives leading to cardiac and respiratory arrest. And sedatives in police-involved deaths are often ignored. Police reports avoid mentioning them due to privacy concerns, while medical examiners rarely cite them as contributing factors. AP’s investigation also discussed the role of a a disputed medical condition called "excited delirium," which fueled the rise of sedation outside hospitals leading to the deaths of half of the injected people, who were Black. The purported symptoms of excited delirium, including “superhuman strength” and high pain tolerance, play into racist stereotypes and lead to biased decisions about sedation.

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