Doctors Abandon a Diagnosis Used to Justify Police Custody Deaths. It Might Live On, Anyway.

by | Oct 16, 2023 | Health

Brooks Walsh hadn’t questioned whether “excited delirium syndrome” was a legitimate medical diagnosis before the high-profile police killings of Elijah McClain in Colorado in 2019 and George Floyd in Minnesota in 2020.

The emergency physician in Bridgeport, Connecticut, was familiar with the term from treating patients who were so severely agitated and combative that they needed medication just to be evaluated.

But it gave him pause when excited delirium — and not the restraint tactics used by arresting police officers — was mentioned as a possible factor in the deaths of those two Black men. That’s when Walsh took a closer look at the American College of Emergency Physicians’ 2009 position paper on excited delirium, which he and other physicians had relied on to treat such patients, then decided something needed to be done.

“I was disappointed by a lot of stuff in that paper: the quality of the evidence that they cite and just, frankly, odd language,” Walsh said.

Excited delirium is not listed in the standard reference book of mental health conditions, nor does it have its own diagnostic code under a system used by health professionals to identify diseases and disorders. No blood test or other diagnostic test can confirm the syndrome. Most major medical societies, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, no longer recognize excited delirium as a legitimate medical condition. One of the last medical holdouts, the National Association of Med …

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