A recent lawsuit highlighted the seemingly outrageous non-consensual use of sedatives on a protester. Turns out this is an everyday practice! And the SF Fire Department apparently does it two or three times a day.
Two weeks ago, legendary civil rights attorney John Burris was back in the headlines filing a new lawsuit on behalf of an abortion rights protester who was sedated against their will at a Warriors Finals game protest in June. "Giving an injection to a protester against her will is shocking and illegal,” Burris said in an August 10 press release announcing the lawsuit. “In my entire career, I have never heard of a sedative being given to anyone, especially a fully restrained protester who was not a danger to themselves or others.”
But according to an investigation by the SF Standard, it’s apparently standard practice. That publication reports that more than 4,000 people have been sedated by SF Fire Department paramedics since 2018, using an injectable sedative called midazolam.
“Data suggest that SFFD paramedics have been administering midazolam (also known as Versed) an average of two to three times a day for the past several years, and the practice seems to be far more widespread than many might realize,” that outlet reports. “It’s unclear how this compares with other major cities.”
The use cases here are ambiguous; we don't how many of these are against the person’s will, as was the case in the Burris’s lawsuit from the abortion rights protester. An SFFD spokesperson tells the Standard these cases were probably “someone who is a danger to self or others.” But even so, that number seems high, and there may be a slippery-slope criteria in deciding when to sedate people.
“It’s almost like it’s routine,” Burris said in a response to the SF Standard. “That strikes me as almost like a weapon—a weapon of choice. I would like to know how many of those circumstances relate to people who were protesting.”
And it does not seem like they check your medical history before shooting up with the drug. Midazolam has a whole profile of drug-drug interactions (side effects of mixing it with other drugs or prescriptions that may be in your system), in addition to its normal side effects, which do have the potential to set off serious health issues.
This controversy has thus far been rightly been litigated as a First Amendment issue, e.g., that it seems highly unfair to medically sedate protesters against their will just to shut them up. But there could be an even more dangerous side to injecting people with drugs while not knowing their medical profile. If first responders are shooting people up with sedatives for completely non-medical reasons, we may not want to take that lying down.
Image: @dimhou via Unsplash