The Safety and Effectiveness of Droperidol for Sedation of Acute Behavioral Disturbance in the Emergency Department

Ann Emerg Med. 2015 Sep;66(3):230-238.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2015.03.016. Epub 2015 Apr 15.


Study objective: We investigate the safety and effectiveness of droperidol for sedation of acute behavioral disturbance in the emergency department (ED).

Methods: This was a prospective observational study in 6 EDs (August 2009 to April 2013). Adult patients requiring parenteral sedation for acute behavioral disturbance received droperidol 10 mg. If this did not sedate the patient within 15 minutes, further sedation was allowed but droperidol 10 mg was recommended as part of a sedation protocol. The primary outcome was the proportion of patients with an abnormal QT interval, defined by the at-risk line on the QT nomogram. Secondary outcomes were effectiveness determined by the time to sedation measured on the Sedation Assessment Tool, use of additional sedation, adverse events, and injury to staff or patients.

Results: There were 1,009 patients with an ECG performed within 2 hours of droperidol administration, with a median dose of 10 mg (interquartile range [IQR]10 to 17.5 mg). Thirteen of the 1,009 patients had an abnormal QT (1.3%; 95% confidence interval 0.7% to 2.3%), but 7 of these had another cause attributed for prolonged QT (methadone, escitalopram, amiodarone, or preexisting). In 1,403 patients sedated with a median total dose of droperidol of 10 mg (IQR 10 to 20 mg), the median time to sedation was 20 minutes (IQR 10 to 30 minutes) and 97% were sedated within 120 minutes. Additional sedation was required for 435 patients (31.0%; 95% confidence interval 28.6% to 33.5%). Adverse events occurred in 70 patients (5%) and oversedation without complications in 109 (8%), the latter more common for patients receiving benzodiazepines as additional sedation (16/109 [15%]). There were no cases of torsades de pointes. Injuries occurred in 34 staff members and 4 patients.

Conclusion: The study supports the use of high-dose droperidol as a safe sedating agent for patients with acute behavioral disturbance in the ED. There is no evidence of increased risk for QT prolongation with the doses used in this study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Conscious Sedation / methods*
  • Dangerous Behavior*
  • Droperidol / adverse effects
  • Droperidol / therapeutic use*
  • Electrocardiography / drug effects
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / adverse effects
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Violence / prevention & control


  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Droperidol