UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: EMS

Title: EMS and the management of pediatric agitation

Keywords: mental health, excited delirium, agitation, sedation, ketamine (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/15/2023 by Jenny Guyther, MD (Updated: 7/13/2024)
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This is a retrospective review of pediatric patients with mental health presentations to EMS in Australia.  For children 12 or older, EMS has standing orders for midazolam for mild to moderate agitation and ketamine for severe agitation.  Patients younger than 12 require medical consultation prior to administration.
14% of pediatric EMS calls in this study were for mental health problems.  In 8% of the 7816 pediatric mental health EMS encounters, patients received either midazolam (about 75%) or ketamine (25% of cases). 11% of patients who received midazolam had an adverse event while 37% in the ketamine group had an adverse event.  Adverse events included airway obstruction requiring jaw thrust, OPA or NPA placement, BVM or desaturations requiring oxygen. No serious adverse events occurred in either group.
Police accompanied EMS in 82% of these cases.  Patients who received medication management were more likely to have autism spectrum disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, intellectual disability, psychiatric disorder or history of substance abuse.
Bottom line: Pediatric mental health is a significant global problem where further research is needed.


Bourke et al.  Acute Severe Behavioral Disturbance Requiring Parenteral Sedation in Pediatric Mental Health Presentations to Emergency Medical Services: A Retrospective Chart Review.  Annals of Emergency Medicine.  2023; 1-13.  epub ahead of print.