What is “Excited Delirium?”
“Excited delirium” is a non-scientific diagnosis used by law enforcement and first responders to justify use of force against civilians, and by medical examiners and coroners to obscure any connection between the cause of death and the use of force. The perpetuation of this scientifically baseless term profoundly affects communities across the United States in two ways:
1. First Responder/EMS Response to People Presumed to be Experiencing So-Called “Excited Delirium”
Despite the medical community clarifying that “excited delirium” is not a valid or recognized medical diagnosis, first responders, including police and emergency medical services (EMS) across the country, are still trained to treat “excited delirium” as a real medical diagnosis. This training may lead them to use excessive force or administer inappropriate medical treatments when they believe someone is experiencing “excited delirium.” Unfortunately, this practice disproportionately harms Black and Brown individuals.
2. Use of “Excited Delirium” by Medical Examiners & Coroners as a Cause of Death
In the United States, medical examiners and coroners have used “excited delirium” to explain deaths in law enforcement custody. It is critical that coroners/medical examiners cease the use of “excited delirium” as an officially determined cause of death, particularly in cases of deaths in police custody.
Why Should We End the Use of “Excited Delirium”?
- There is no scientific basis for “excited delirium” as a legitimate diagnosis or cause of death (see Medical Consensus)
- The concept has been routinely used to justify or excuse excessive force by police or other first responders
- The concept has racist origins and history
- The concept relies on racist tropes, including “superhuman strength” and “impervious[ness] to pain”
- The concept has been disproportionately used to explain to the deaths of Black men in police custody in the United States
Current evidence does not support ‘excited delirium’ as an official diagnosis.— The American Medical Association
If you know of an individual impacted by “excited delirium,” please submit publicly available information: