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J Emerg Med. 2019 Feb 8. pii: S0736-4679(18)31229-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2018.12.036. [Epub ahead of print]

Rescue Sedation When Treating Acute Agitation in the Emergency Department With Intramuscular Antipsychotics.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, Hennepin County Medical Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota.



Rapid treatment of agitation in the emergency department (ED) is critical to avoid injury to patients and providers. Treatment with intramuscular antipsychotics is often utilized, but there is a paucity of comparative effectiveness evidence available.


The purpose of this investigation was to compare the effectiveness of droperidol, olanzapine, and haloperidol for treating agitation in the ED.


This was a retrospective observational study of adult patients who received intramuscular medication to treat agitation. Patients were classified based on the initial antipsychotic they received. The primary effectiveness outcome was the rate of additional sedation administered (rescue medication) within 1 h. Secondary outcomes included rescue sedation for the entire encounter and adverse events.


There were 15,918 patients included (median age 37 years, 75% male). Rescue rates at 1 h were: 547/4947 for droperidol (11%, 95% confidence interval [CI] 10-12%), 988/8825 olanzapine (11%, 95% CI 10-12%), and 390/2146 for haloperidol (18%, 95% CI 17-20%). Rescue rates for the entire ED encounter were: 832/4947 for droperidol (17%, 95% CI 16-18%), 1665/8825 for olanzapine (19%, 95% CI 18-20%), and 560/2146 for haloperidol (26%, 95% CI 24-28%). Adverse events were uncommon: intubation (49, 0.3%), akathisia (7, 0.04%), dystonia (5, 0.03%), respiratory arrest (1, 0.006%), and torsades de pointes (0), with no significant differences between drugs.


Olanzapine and droperidol lead to lower rates of rescue sedation at 1 h and overall, compared with haloperidol. There were no significant differences in major adverse events.


agitation; sedation

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