UMEM Educational Pearls - Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: Intranasal Administration of Common Emergency Department Medications

Keywords: Intranasal Administration, Alternative Administration (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/2/2018 by Wesley Oliver (Emailed: 11/3/2018) (Updated: 11/8/2018)
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The most common methods of medication administration in the emergency department are oral, intravenous (IV), and intramuscular (IM).  If the oral route is not available, if IV/IM are not necessary, or if obtaining IV access is challenging, intranasal (IN) medication delivery is a reasonable alternative.  More concentrated products are preferred and a volume of 1 mL or less per nostril should be utilized.  Below is a table of the commonly used medications used via the IN route. 

Drug Concentration Indication IN Dose

Time to Peak Effect

Adverse Events
Fentanyl 50 mcg/mL Analgesia 0.5-2 mcg/kg 5 min

Nasal irritation, rhinitis, headache

Ketamine 100 mg/mL

Analgesia, Agitation, Sedation

3-6 mg/kg 5-10 min

Poor taste, HTN, hypersalivation, agitation, emergence reaction

Lorazepam 2 mg/mL

Agitation, Seizures

0.1 mg/kg

Max: 4 mg

30 min

Poor taste, lacrimation, nasal/throat irritation

Midazolam 5 mg/mL

Agitation, Sedation, Seizures

0.1-0.4 mg/kg

Max: 10 mg

5-10 min Same as lorazepam
Naloxone 1 mg/mL

Opioid Reversal

0.1 mg/kg

Usual dose:

0.4-2 mg

1-5 min

N/V, headache, withdrawal symptoms


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Clonidine is an alpha-2 agonist commonly used to treat hypertension. Clonidine can also be used to mitigate symptoms of opioid withdrawal as it easily crosses the blood brain barrier and reduces sympathetic effects.

When using clonidine for acute withdrawal or blood pressure control, oral tablets are the preferred route.  Clonidine transdermal patches have slow absorption and take 2-3 days for the effect to be seen.  Once removed, clonidine patches can provide therapeutic levels for up to 20 hours.

Bottom Line: If clonidine is needed acutely for your patient, select oral tablets and titrate to effect.

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) require broad spectrum antibiotics to be administered within 3 hours of presentation of sepsis to be in compliance with the sepsis measure. 


Not only do the antibiotics that are chosen determine compliance with this measure, but the order in which antibiotics are given can also significantly affect compliance. 


According to CMS, for combination antibiotic therapy, both antibiotics must be started within the three hours following presentation; however, they do not need to be completely infused within this time frame. 


Combination therapy typically includes a monotherapy antibiotic (see list in detailed information below) plus vancomycin (daptomycin or linezolid could also be used). 


So which antibiotic should be given first? 


If a monotherapy antibiotic is given first within the 3 hours of presentation, then compliance for the sepsis measure is met.  These antibiotics cover a broader range of bacteria and are typically infused over ~30 minutes, which allows plenty of time for your second antibiotic to be initiated.  


If vancomycin is given first, compliance with this measure can become difficult. First, vancomycin has a narrower spectrum of activity and is not a monotherapy antibiotic. Second, vancomycin infusion rates range from 1 to 2 hours.  Given that antibiotics are usually given after sepsis is flagged, this infusion rate only gives a short period of time for the second antibiotic to be initiated. Thus, vancomycin should almost always be the second antibiotic infused. 


In addition, patients may also have limited intravenous access or antibiotics may not be compatible with resuscitation fluids.  All of these factors together must be considered when trying to gain compliance with this measure. 


Take-Home Point: 

Administer monotherapy antibiotics (e.g. piperacillin/tazobactam and cefepimeprior to administering vancomycin in your septic patients to improve compliance with the sepsis measure. 



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Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: New-Onset Diabetes with DKA in Adults

Keywords: Diabetes, DKA (PubMed Search)

Posted: 7/7/2018 by Wesley Oliver (Updated: 3/22/2023)
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Pearl submitted by James Leonard, PharmD, Clinical Toxicology Fellow
A 54-year-old male 1-year post-renal transplant arrives to the emergency department in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). He has no history of diabetes and is not currently taking steroids for immunosuppression. Home medications include tacrolimus, mycophenolate, and hydrochlorothiazide. Is this latent auto-immune diabetes or something else?

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Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: Steroid Induced Leukocytosis

Keywords: steroids, infection, leukocytosis (PubMed Search)

Posted: 6/2/2018 by Ashley Martinelli (Updated: 3/22/2023)
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Steroids induce leukocytosis through the release of cells from bone marrow and the inhibition of neutrophil apoptosis.   This effect typically occurs within the first two weeks of steroid treatment. 

Leukocyte elevation is commonly used in the diagnosis of septic patients; however, this can be hard to discern in patients on concomitant steroid therapy.

A retrospective cohort study of adult patients presenting with fevers and a diagnosis of pneumonia, urinary tract infection, bacteremia, cellulitis, or COPD exacerbation was conducted to determine the maximal level of WBC within the first 24h of admission between patients on acute, chronic, or no steroid treatment.

Results: maximal WBC levels (p< 0.001)

·        Acute steroid therapy: 15.4 ± 8.3 x 10 9/L

·        Chronic steroid therapy: 14.9 ± 7.4 x 10 9/L

·        No steroid therapy: 12.9 ± 6.4 x 10 9/L

An increase in WBC of 5 x 10 9/L can be found in acute and chronic steroid use when presenting with an acute infection and fever.


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Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: Fosfomycin for UTIs

Keywords: Fosfomycin, urinary tract infection, cystitis (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/3/2018 by Wesley Oliver
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Fosfomycin is an antibiotic infrequently used for the treatment of urinary tract infections (UTIs). It has a broad spectrum of activity that covers both gram-positive (MRSA, VRE) and gram-negative bacteria (Pseudomonas, ESBL, and carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae), which is useful in the treatment of multidrug-resistant bacteria. 

Fosfomycin is FDA approved for the treatment of uncomplicated UTIs in women due to susceptible strains of Escherichia coli and Enterococcus faecalis (3g oral as a single dose). Data has also demonstrated that it can be used for complicated UTIs; however, dosing is different in this population (3 g oral every 2-3 days for 3 doses).  Fosfomycin is not recommended for pyelonephritis.

The broad spectrum of activity, in addition to only needing a single dose in most cases, makes fosfomycin an attractive option; however, it should be reserved for use in certain circumstances.  Fosfomycin should not be considered as a first-line option.  It is also more expensive than other medications (~$100/dose) and in countries with high rates of utilization bacteria are developing resistance to fosfomycin.  In addition, most outpatient pharmacies do not keep this medication in stock.

Take-Home Point:

Fosfomycin should be reserved for multidrug-resistant UTIs in which other first-line options have been exhausted.

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Patients with severe asthma exacerbations that are unresponsive to inhaled beta-agonists may require the use of epinephrine to control their symptoms.  When patients get to this point what route of administration should be used for the administration of epinephrine?

The most recent asthma guidelines (published in 2007) recommend the use of SubQ epinephrine 0.3-0.5 mg every 20 minutes for 3 doses.  Drug references typically list SubQ or IM epinephrine 0.01 mg/kg (~0.3-0.5 mg) every 20 minutes as appropriate routes of administration.  There is currently no data demonstrating that one route of administration is better than the other in patients with asthma; however, in other disease states, such as anaphylaxis, IM epinephrine is preferred due to the more rapid and reliable absorption over SubQ administration.

Auto-injectors that administer IM epinephrine 0.3 mg are available.  These auto-injectors may decrease the risk of medications error; however, they can be expensive.  SubQ administration requires the use of a syringe and a vial/ampule of 1 mg/mL epinephrine.

Bottom Line: Either SubQ or IM epinephrine administration is appropriate for patients with severe asthma exacerbations.  The preferred method at a given institution will be dictated by historical practice, risk of medication dosing errors, and drug cost.

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Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: Insulin for Hyperkalemia

Keywords: Insulin, Hyperkalemia, Dextrose (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/6/2017 by Wesley Oliver (Updated: 3/22/2023)
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Strategies for Hyperkalemia Management

Stabilize cardiac membrane

Calcium gluconate

Intracellular movement in skeletal muscles


Sodium Bicarbonate


Potassium excretion

Loop Diuretics


Patiromer (chronic use only)

Potassium removal



Insulin mechanism of action for hyperkalemia:

· Binds to skeletal muscle receptors

· Increased activity of the sodium-potassium adenosine triphosphatase and glucose transporter GLUT4

· Glycemic response occurs at lower levels of insulin

· Potassium transport activity increases as insulin levels increase

Patients with insulin resistance due to type-2 diabetes do not become resistant to the kalemic effects of insulin.


Hypoglycemia following insulin administration for hyperkalemia:

· Occurs 1-3 hours post dose, even with initial bolus of dextrose

· The amount of glucose is insufficient to replace the glucose utilized in response to the administered dose of insulin

· Insulin’s half-life is increased in ESRD leading to longer duration of action


A systematic review of 11 studies regarding insulin dosing for hyperkalemia:

· 22 patients (18%) experienced hypoglycemia

· Studies that only gave 25 grams (1 amp) of dextrose had the highest incidence of hypoglycemia (30%)



· Consider insulin dose reduction in patients with renal failure

· Use an order set to ensure patients receive appropriate POC glucose monitoring to detect delayed onset of hypoglycemia

· Dextrose 50% (25 grams) should be given to all patients with pre-insulin BG <350 mg/dL

Subsequent PRN dextrose 50% (25 grams) should be used to maintain BG >100 mg/dL after insulin administration

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Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: Fever Treatment in Sepsis

Keywords: antipyretic, sepsis, fever (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/7/2017 by Ashley Martinelli (Emailed: 10/10/2017) (Updated: 3/22/2023)
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Fever occurs in 40% of patients with sepsis.  Historically, there has been conflicting evidence of whether patient outcomes improve with antipyretic therapy.

A recent large meta-analysis assessed the effect of antipyretic therapy on mortality of critically ill septic patients.  The analysis included 8 randomized studies (1,531 patients) and 8 observational studies (17,432 patients) that assessed mortality of septic patients with and without antipyretic therapy.

The authors found no difference in mortality at 28 days or during hospital admission.  There was also no difference in shock reversal, heart rate, or minute ventilation.

As expected, they found a statistically significant reduction in posttreatment body temperature (-0.38°C, 95% IC -0.63 to -0.13) in patients who received antipyretic therapy.  NSAIDs and cooling therapies were more effective than acetaminophen, however no agent or dosing information was provided and only one study included physical cooling therapies.

Bottom Line: Antipyretic therapies do not reduce mortality in patients with sepsis, but they may improve patient comfort by reducing body temperature.


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Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: Alpha-Blockers for the Management of Ureteral Stones

Keywords: Ureteral stones, Alpha-blockers (PubMed Search)

Posted: 9/2/2017 by Wesley Oliver (Updated: 3/22/2023)
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Alpha-blockers (tamsulosin, alfuzosin, doxazosin, and terazosin) are antagonists of alpha1A-adrenoreceptors, which results in the relaxation of ureteral smooth muscle.    Current evidence suggests alpha-blockers may be useful when ureteral stones are 5-10 mm; however, there is no evidence to support the use of alpha-blockers with stones <5 mm.  Patients with ureteral stones >10 mm were excluded from studies utilizing these medications.

The size of most ureteral stones will be unknown due to the lack of need for imaging able to measure stone size. Given that the median ureteral stone size is <5 mm, most patients will not benefit from the use of an alpha-blocker.

Also, keep in mind that the data for adverse events with alpha-blockers used for ureteral stones is limited and that these medications have a risk of hypotension.


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Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: Levofloxacin dosing for CAP

Keywords: Levofloxacin, duration, dose, CAP, pneumonia (PubMed Search)

Posted: 7/1/2017 by Jill Logan (Updated: 3/22/2023)
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When you look up dosing for levofloxacin for community acquired pneumonia (CAP), you will find that both of the following options are approved:

  • Levofloxacin 500 mg IV/PO daily x 7-14 days
  • Levofloxacin 750 mg IV/PO daily x 5 days

This is based on a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, active treatment trial comparing these two regimens in CAP (mild to severe). This non-inferiority trial shows that the 750 mg dose of levofloxacin for 5 days is "at least as effective and well tolerated" as the 500 mg dose of levofloxacin for 10 days.

So why should you choose the 750 mg daily x 5 day regimen?

  • Higher doses maximize the concentration-dependent pharmacokinetic profile of the drug
  • Higher doses and shorter duration may be associated with less drug resistance
  • Patients subjectively report feeling better at day 3 with the higher dose regimen

As alway with levofloxacin, don't forget to renally dose adjust subsequent doses when writting a script or scheduled inpatient order for patients with reduced creatinine clearance! 

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Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: S.aureus in the urine and the risk for bacteremia

Keywords: MSSA, MRSA, bacturia, bacteremia, Staph aureus, Staphlococcus aureus (PubMed Search)

Posted: 6/4/2017 by Jill Logan (Updated: 3/22/2023)
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  • The incidence of Staphylococcus aurea as a urinary pathogen is increasing, however, this finding may represent more than a simple urinary tract infection.
  • One review found an 8-21%rate of association between S. aureus in the urine with bacteremia.
  • Additional work up, including blood cultures, may be warranted in patients with systemic symptoms, lack of access to follow up, and no urinary tract pathology or instrumentation.

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Haloperidol has a higher D2 receptor antagonist effect than standard antiemetic treatment agents such as metoclopramide. In addition, newer antipsychotic agents such as Olanzapine have a high affinity at multiple antiemetic sites such as the dopamine and serotinergic receptors.

While formal RCT's are still in the works, multiple sources including palliative care, emergency medicine, and pain journals support their use in refractory emesis.

Consider Haloperidol 3-5 mg IV. 
Check an EKG for long QTc prior to use. Consider dose reduction of haloperidol in those with hepatic impairment. Also consider dose reduction in patients taking carbamazepine, phenytoin, phenobarbital, rifampicin, or quinidine due to that pesky CYP3A4 inhibition. 

Consider Olanzapine 2-5 mg IV.

Several case reports have shown a higher rate of success with olanzapine for refractory emesis. Olanzapine has similar precautions as those to haloperidol (EKG, hepatic impairment), although it's CYP drug interactions are less common. Additionally, use olanzapine cautiously in hyperglycemic patients as there are several case reports of olanzapine prompting episodes of DKA. Consider frequent blood sugar checks or small doses of insulin in hyperglycemic patients. 


Take Home Points:

Consider the antipsychotic agents Haloperidol or Olanzapine for patients with refractory emesis, they may be more effective than traditional antiemetics. 

Get an EKG prior to administration to check for QTc prolongation. As the classical and atypical antipsychotic agents are sedating, use caution in conjunction with other sedating medications (such as benzodiazepines).  


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Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: On your radar: methadone-linezolid drug-drug interaction

Keywords: methadone, linezolid, serotonin syndrome, drug interaction (PubMed Search)

Posted: 4/1/2017 by Michelle Hines, PharmD (Updated: 4/3/2017)
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Linezolid is a weak, nonselective monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). A recent FDA Drug Safety Communication released in March 2016 noted reports of serotonin syndrome associated with certain opioids, particularly fentanyl and methadone. Development of serotonin syndrome after concomitant administration of linezolid with other serotonergic agents has been reported. Due to a potential risk of serotonin syndrome, a patient on chronic methadone should not be started on concomitant linezolid unless they will be monitored.

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The addition of diazepam to naproxen for patients with acute, nontraumatic, nonradicular lower back pain did not improve pain or functional outcomes at 1 week or 3 months after ED discharge compared to placebo.

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Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: Pharmacy Pearls from the 2016 Surviving Sepsis Guidelines

Keywords: sepsis, antibiotics, vasopressors, shock (PubMed Search)

Posted: 2/4/2017 by Michelle Hines, PharmD (Updated: 3/22/2023)
Click here to contact Michelle Hines, PharmD

Below is a list of pharmacy-related pearls from the 2016 Surviving Sepsis Guidelines:

  • Fluid resuscitation: 30 mg/kg IV crystalloids within 3 hours (strong recommendation, low quality evidence)
  • Vasopressors:
    • MAP target 65 mm Hg (strong recommendation, low quality evidence)
    • Norepinephrine 1st line (strong recommendation, moderate quality evidence). Epinephrine (weak recommendation, low quality evidence) or up to 0.03 Units/min vasopressin (weak recommendation, moderate quality evidence) may be added to NE.
  • Antibiotics:
    • Obtain blood cultures prior to administration, but do not delay antibiotics (best practice)
    • Initiate empiric broad-spectrum antibiotics within 1 hour (strong recommendation, moderate quality evidence)
    • Consider double gram-negative coverage in patients with septic shock at high risk of multidrug-resistant pathogen
    • Risk factors for invasive Candida infection: immunocompromised state, TPN, necrotizing pancreatitis, recent major abdominal surgery, recent fungal infection
    • Optimize pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic properties- e.g., IV loading dose of vancomycin of 25-30 mg/kg is favored (best practice)
  • Corticosteroids: IV hydrocortisone 200 mg per day if hemodynamic stability is not achieved through crystalloids and vasopressors (weak recommendation, low quality evidence)

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Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: Ketorolac's analgesic ceiling

Keywords: ketorolac, NSAID, analgesia (PubMed Search)

Posted: 1/7/2017 by Michelle Hines, PharmD (Updated: 3/22/2023)
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In a study comparing ketorolac IV doses of 10 mg, 15 mg, and 30 mg, no difference in pain score reduction or need for rescue analgesia was observed.

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Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: Esmolol in refractory ventricular fibrillation

Keywords: esmolol, ventricular fibrillation, cardiac arrest (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/21/2016 by Michelle Hines, PharmD (Emailed: 12/3/2016) (Updated: 12/3/2016)
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Consider esmolol IV 500 mcg/kg loading dose followed by a continuous infusion of 0-100 mcg/kg/min for patients in refractory ventricular fibrillation 

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Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: Subcutaneous UFH as Anticoagulation Bridge

Keywords: anticoagulation, warfarin, heparin, bridge, DVT (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/5/2016 by Michelle Hines, PharmD
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Do you have a patient with renal insufficiency who is in need of an anticoagulation bridge to warfarin? Subcutaneous unfractionated heparin (UFH) as an initial dose of 333 Units/kg subcutaneously followed by a fixed dose of 250 Units/kg (actual body weight) every 12 hours may be an alternative to admission for heparin infusion with monitoring.

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What they did:

  • End stage renal disease (ESRD) patients presenting to the ED for emergent hemodialysis (HD) with baseline QTc prolongation (>450 msec in men and >470 msec in women) were given antiemetics or antihistamines for symptomatic relief of nausea and pruritis. A repeat ECG was obtained 2 hours after medications were given.
  • Most patients received oral or intravenous promethazine 25 mg, ondansetron 4-8 mg, or diphenhydramine 25-50 mg.

What they found:

  • 44 patients had a mean initial QTc of 483.7 msec (SD 18.4). Two hours after medication administration, the mean QTc was 483.8 msec (SD 20.0).
  • Among 13 patients with initial QTc intervals >500 msec, 9 had an increased QTc interval after medication administration (average increase 11.8 msec, SD 6.7 msec).
  • 8 patients with baseline QTc <500 msec had QTc >500 msec after medication administration.
  • No patients experienced dysrhythmias, death, or were admitted for dysrhythmia or syncope 1 week after medication administration.

Application to clinical practice:

  • While the mean QTc did not change, the proportion of individuals who experienced an increase in QTc interval is not reported.
  • Although greatly limited by a small sample size, this study suggests that usual doses of promethazine, ondansetron, or diphenhydramine in patients presenting for emergent HD with baseline QTc prolongation may be safe.
  • Additional studies, especially in patients with QTc prolongation >500 msec, are warranted.

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