Effectiveness and safety of droperidol in a United States emergency department

Am J Emerg Med. 2020 Jul;38(7):1310-1314. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2019.09.007. Epub 2019 Nov 25.


Background: Droperidol is a dopamine receptor antagonist that functions as an analgesic, sedative, and antiemetic. In 2001, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required a black box warning in response to case reports of QT prolongation and potential fatal arrhythmias. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of droperidol in patients presenting to a United States Emergency Department (ED).

Methods: Observational cohort study of all droperidol administrations from 1/1/2012 through 4/19/2018 at an academic ED. The primary endpoint was mortality within 24 h of droperidol administration. Secondary endpoint included use of rescue analgesics.

Results: A total of 6,881 visits by 5,784 patients received droperidol of whom 6,353 visits authorized use of their records for research, including 5.4% administrations in children and 8.2% in older adults (≥65). Droperidol was used as an analgesic for pain (N = 1,387, 21.8%) and headache (N = 3,622, 57.0%), as a sedative (N = 550, 8.7%), and as an antiemetic (N = 794, 12.5%). No deaths secondary to droperidol administration were recorded within 24 h. Need for rescue analgesia occurred in 5.2% of patients with headache (N = 188) and 7.4% of patients with pain (N = 102); 1.1% of patients with headache received rescue opioids (N = 38) after droperidol, as did 5.4% of patients with pain other than headache (N = 75). No patients had fatal arrhythmias. Akathisia occurred in 2.9%.

Conclusion: No fatalities were seen among this large cohort of patients who received droperidol in the ED. Our findings suggest droperidol's effectiveness and safety when used as an analgesic, antiemetic and/or sedative.

Keywords: Acute Pain; Comparative effectiveness research; Droperidol; Headache; Pain; QT.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Anesthesia / therapeutic use*
  • Adult
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Antiemetics / therapeutic use
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / chemically induced
  • Droperidol / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Labeling
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Headache / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality*
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States


  • Adjuvants, Anesthesia
  • Analgesics
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Antiemetics
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Droperidol