Randomized Controlled Feasibility Trial of Intranasal Ketamine Compared to Intranasal Fentanyl for Analgesia in Children with Suspected Extremity Fractures

Acad Emerg Med. 2017 Dec;24(12):1430-1440. doi: 10.1111/acem.13313. Epub 2017 Nov 3.


Objectives: We compared the tolerability and efficacy of intranasal subdissociative ketamine to intranasal fentanyl for analgesia of children with acute traumatic pain and investigated the feasibility of a larger noninferiority trial that could investigate the potential opioid-sparing effects of intranasal ketamine.

Methods: This randomized controlled trial compared 1 mg/kg intranasal ketamine to 1.5 μg/kg intranasal fentanyl in children 4 to 17 years old with acute pain from suspected isolated extremity fractures presenting to an urban Level II pediatric trauma center from December 2015 to November 2016. Patients, parents, treating physicians, and outcome assessors were blinded to group allocation. The primary outcome, a tolerability measure, was the frequency of cumulative side effects and adverse events within 60 minutes of drug administration. The secondary outcomes included the difference in mean pain score reduction at 20 minutes, the proportion of patients achieving a clinically significant reduction in pain in 20 minutes, total dose of opioid pain medication in morphine equivalents/kg/hour (excluding study drug) required during the emergency department (ED) stay, and the feasibility of enrolling children presenting to the ED in acute pain into a randomized trial conducted under U.S. regulations. All patients were monitored until 6 hours after their last dose of study drug or until admission to the hospital ward or operating room.

Results: Of 629 patients screened, 87 received the study drug and 82 had complete data for the primary outcome (41 patients in each group). The median (interquartile range) age was 8 (6-11) years and 62% were male. Baseline pain scores were similar among patients randomized to receive ketamine (73 ± 26) and fentanyl (69 ± 26; mean difference [95% CI] = 4 [-7 to 15]). The cumulative number of side effects was 2.2 times higher in the ketamine group, but there were no serious adverse events and no patients in either group required intervention. The most common side effects of ketamine were bad taste in the mouth (37; 90.2%), dizziness (30; 73.2%), and sleepiness (19; 46.3%). The most common side effects of fentanyl were sleepiness (15; 36.6%), bad taste in the mouth (9; 22%), and itchy nose (9; 22%). No patients experienced respiratory side effects. At 20 minutes, the mean pain scale score reduction was 44 ± 36 for ketamine and 35 ± 29 for fentanyl (mean difference = 9 [95% CI = -4 to 23]). Procedural sedation with ketamine occurred in 28 ketamine patients (65%) and 25 fentanyl patients (57%) prior to completing the study.

Conclusions: Intranasal ketamine was associated with more minor side effects than intranasal fentanyl. Pain relief at 20 minutes was similar between groups. Our data support the feasibility of a larger, noninferiority trial to more rigorously evaluate the safety, efficacy, and potential opioid-sparing benefits of intranasal ketamine analgesia for children with acute pain.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acute Pain / diagnosis
  • Acute Pain / drug therapy*
  • Acute Pain / etiology
  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Adolescent
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Arm Injuries / complications
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Fentanyl / therapeutic use*
  • Fractures, Bone / complications*
  • Humans
  • Ketamine / therapeutic use*
  • Leg Injuries / complications
  • Male
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Pain Measurement


  • Analgesics
  • Ketamine
  • Fentanyl