Objectives: Low-dose ketamine has been used perioperatively for pain control and may be a useful adjunct to intravenous (IV) opioids in the control of acute pain in the emergency department (ED). The aim of this study was to determine the effectiveness of low-dose ketamine as an adjunct to morphine versus standard care with morphine alone for the treatment of acute moderate to severe pain among ED patients.
Methods: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial with three study groups was conducted at a large, urban academic ED over a 10-month period. Eligible patients were 18 to 65 years old with acute moderate to severe pain (score of at least 5 out of 10 on the numerical pain rating scale [NRS] and pain duration < 7 days) who were deemed by their treating physician to require IV opioids. The three study groups were: 1) morphine and normal saline placebo (standard care group), 2) morphine and 0.15 mg/kg ketamine (group 1), or 3) morphine and 0.3 mg/kg ketamine (group 2). Participants were assessed at 30, 60, and 120 minutes after study medication administration and received rescue analgesia as needed to target a 50% reduction in pain. The primary outcome measure of pain relief, or pain intensity reduction, was derived using the NRS and calculated as the summed pain-intensity (SPID) difference over 2 hours. The amount and timing of rescue opioid analgesia was evaluated as a secondary outcome. The occurrence of adverse events was also measured.
Results: Sixty patients were enrolled (n = 20 in each group). There were no differences between study groups with respect to age, sex, race/ethnicity, preenrollment analgesia, or baseline NRS. Over the 2-hour poststudy medication administration period, the SPIDs were higher (greater pain relief) for the ketamine study groups than the control group (standard care 4.0, interquartile range [IQR] = 1.8 to 6.5; group 1 7.0, IQR = 4.3 to 10.8; and group 2 7.8, IQR = 4.8 to 12.8; p < 0.02). The SPIDs for the ketamine groups were similar (p < 0.46). When compared to standard care, group 2 sustained the reduction in pain intensity up to 2 hours, whereas group 1 was similar to standard care by 2 hours. Similar numbers of patients received rescue analgesia: standard care group, seven of 20, 35%; group 1, four of 20, 20%; and group 2, four of 20, 20% (p = 0.48). Among those receiving rescue analgesia, those in the standard care group received analgesia sooner than either low-dose ketamine group, on average. More participants in the low-dose ketamine groups reported dysphoria and dizziness.
Conclusions: Low-dose ketamine is a viable analgesic adjunct to morphine for the treatment of moderate to severe acute pain. Dosing of 0.3 mg/kg is possibly more effective than 0.15 mg/kg, but may be associated with minor adverse events. Future studies should evaluate additional outcomes, optimum dosing, and use in specific populations.
© 2014 by the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine.