End “Excited Delirium”

At a Glance: Data on “Excited Delirium”

Who is impacted by “excited delirium”?

A 2021 Virginia Law Review article looked at 166 deaths in police custody attributed to “excited delirium” from 2010-2020 and found:

  • 43.3% of deaths were of Black people
  • 56% of deaths were of Black or Latinx people
  • 46% of deaths involved Tasers

How do first responders and EMS workers respond to perceived “excited delirium”?

A 2020 investigation by KUNC found:

  • Medics in Colorado administered ketamine to 902 people for “excited delirium” over 2.5 years
  • About 17% of those people experienced complications

When do “excited delirium” deaths occur?

A 2020 Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology article found that 90% of deaths attributed to “excited delirium” involved some sort of restraint.

What happens when law enforcement gets involved?

A 2017 Austin-American Statesman investigation into 289 non-shooting deaths of a person in police custody in Texas from 2005 to 2017 found that more than one in six of these deaths were attributed to “excited delirium.”

Timeline of the Racist Origins of “Excited Delirium”

  • In 1985, Drs. Charles Wetli and David Fishbain published a study of the sudden deaths of seven recreational cocaine users from purported “excited delirium.” All seven had been restrained, in most cases by law enforcement.
  • In 1988, Dr. Wetli extended his theory of sudden death from small amounts of cocaine to 17 Black women in Miami who were found dead in the same neighborhood. He told a newspaper, “For some reason the male of the species becomes psychotic and the female of the species dies in relation to sex.”
  • In 1989, Wetli’s supervisor reviewed the case files and found that all the women had actually been murdered. Investigators eventually found a serial killer responsible for the murders of as many as 32 women.
  • In 1990, Wetli doubled down on his racialized theories of “excited delirium,” telling a magazine, “Seventy percent of people dying of coke-induced delirium are black males, even though most users are white. Why? It may be genetic.”
  • In 2005, Dr. Vincent Di Maio (forensic pathologist) and Theresa Di Maio published Excited Delirium Syndrome, defining the term as “the sudden death of an individual during or following an episode of excited delirium, in which an autopsy fails to … explain the death.” The couple later acknowledged that they had originated the term “excited delirium syndrome.”
  • In 2007, TASER (now Axon [AXON:NASDAQ]), a company that produces “less lethal” weapons like the Taser purchased 1000-1500 copies of Di Maio’s book and distributed free copies and also gave out other materials on “excited delirium” at conferences of medical examiners and police chiefs.
    • TASER filed lawsuits against medical examiners who had attributed in-custody deaths in part to Taser use.
    • TASER hired experts who testified that Tasers did not cause or contribute to a person’s death in specific cases.
  • In 2009, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) published a white paper promoting the use of “excited delirium” as a cause of death.