Prehospital Use of Ketamine versus Benzodiazepines for Sedation among Pediatric Patients with Behavioral Emergencies

Prehosp Emerg Care. 2023;27(7):908-914. doi: 10.1080/10903127.2022.2163326. Epub 2023 Jan 20.


Introduction: Ketamine is an emerging alternative sedation agent for prehospital management of agitation, yet research is limited regarding its use for children. Our objective was to compare the effectiveness and safety of ketamine and benzodiazepines when used for emergent prehospital sedation of pediatric patients with behavioral emergencies.

Methods: We performed a retrospective review of 9-1-1 EMS records from the 2019-2020 ESO Data Collaborative research datasets. We included patients ≤18 years of age who received ketamine or benzodiazepines for EMS primary and secondary impressions indicating behavioral conditions. We excluded patients with first Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) scores ≤8, those receiving ketamine or benzodiazepines prior to EMS arrival, those receiving both ketamine and benzodiazepines, and interfacility transfers. Effectiveness outcomes included general clinician assessment of improvement, decrease in GCS, and administration of a subsequent sedative. Safety outcomes included mortality; advanced airway placement; ventilatory assistance without advanced airway placement; or marked sedation (GCS ≤8). Chi-square and t-tests were used to compare the ketamine and benzodiazepines groups.

Results: Of 57,970 pediatric patients with behavioral complaints and GCS scores >8, 1,539 received ketamine (13.3%, n = 205) or a benzodiazepine (86.7%, n = 1,334). Most patients were ≥12 years old (89.2%, n = 1,372), predominantly Caucasian (48.3%, n = 744), and were equally distributed by sex (49.7% male, n = 765). First treatment with ketamine was associated with a greater likelihood of improvement (88.8% vs 70.5%, p < 0.001) and a greater average GCS reduction compared to treatment with benzodiazepines (-2.5 [SD:4.0] vs -0.3 [SD:1.7], p < 0.001). Fewer patients who received ketamine received subsequent medication compared to those who received benzodiazepines (12.2% vs 27.0%, p < 0.001). Marked sedation was more frequent with ketamine than benzodiazepines (28.8% vs 2.9%, p < 0.001). Provision of ventilatory support (1.5% vs 0.5%, p = 0.14) and advanced airway placement (1.0% vs 0.2%, p = 0.09) were similar between ketamine and benzodiazepine groups. No prehospital deaths were reported.

Conclusion: In this pediatric cohort, prehospital sedation with ketamine was associated with greater patient improvement, less subsequent sedative administration, and greater sedation compared to benzodiazepines. Though we identified low rates of adverse events in both groups, ketamine was associated with more instances of marked sedation, which bears further study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Benzodiazepines / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Emergencies
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / therapeutic use
  • Ketamine* / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Ketamine
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives