A Comparison of Prehospital Pediatric Analgesic Use of Ketamine and Opioids

Prehosp Emerg Care. 2023;27(7):915-919. doi: 10.1080/10903127.2023.2183295. Epub 2023 Mar 8.


Objective/introduction: Ketamine is an opioid-alternative used for analgesia in the prehospital setting. There are knowledge gaps regarding its use during emergency medical services (EMS) encounters for pediatric patients. Our objective was to compare pain reduction, adverse events, and prehospital deaths between ketamine and opioids when used for analgesia administered by any route among pediatric patients.

Methods: This was a retrospective review of 9-1-1 EMS records of injured pediatric patients (≤17 years of age) who received ketamine or opioids for analgesia using the ESO Data Collaborative (calendar years 2019-2020). We excluded interfacility transfers, patients receiving both medications, those with EMS clinician impressions indicating behavioral disorders, and those who received medication to facilitate advanced airway placement. EMS narrative review was performed to confirm ketamine use was for analgesia and to identify any unplanned airway placements. We assessed pain score reduction (0-10 ordinal scale) and clinician-documented patient response (improved, unchanged, worsened, unknown). Adverse events were defined as change in vital signs (GCS, SBP, RR, SpO2), bag valve mask ventilation alone, or death. Descriptive statistics were calculated to compare outcomes between groups.

Results: Overall, 9,223 patients were included, 190 (2.1%) received ketamine and 9,033 (97.9%) received opioids. Mean age in years was 12.8 [SD 4.0] for ketamine and 12.7 [SD 4.0] for opioids. Patients in both groups experienced pain reduction, and more patients receiving ketamine had EMS clinician reported improvement (93.2% vs. 87.9%, p = 0.03). Ketamine was associated with a greater average reduction in pain score than opioids (mean difference: -4.4 [SD 3.5], and -3.1 [SD 2.8], p < 0.001). Adverse events were rare with few patients receiving ventilatory support following the use of ketamine or opioids, (0, [SD 0.0%] vs. 6 [SD 0.1%], p = 1). There were no unplanned airway placements or prehospital deaths identified.

Conclusion: We identified similar high rates of pain reduction and rare adverse events among pediatric patients who received ketamine or opioids. A greater pain reduction was noted among patients administered ketamine. Intubation as a result of medication administration did not occur and need for ventilatory assistance was rare.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Child
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Humans
  • Ketamine* / adverse effects
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Ketamine
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Analgesics