Low dose ketamine use in the emergency department, a new direction in pain management


There is a need for alternative non-opioid analgesics for the treatment of acute, chronic, and refractory pain in the emergency department (ED). Ketamine is a fast acting N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist that provides safe and effective analgesia. The use of low dose ketamine (LDK) (<1mg/kg) provides sub-dissociative levels of analgesia and has been studied as an alternative and/or adjunct to opioid analgesics. We reviewed 11 studies using LDK either alone or in combination with opioid analgesics in the ED. Ketamine was shown to be efficacious at treating a variety of painful conditions. It has a favorable adverse effect profile when given at sub-dissociative doses. Studies have also compared LDK to opioids in the ED. Although ketamine’s analgesic effects were not shown to be superior, they were comparable to opioids. LDK has the benefit of causing less respiratory depression. It likely has less wide spread potential for abuse. Nursing protocols for the administration of LDK have been studied. We believe that LDK has the potential to be a safe and effective alternative and/or adjunct to opioid analgesics in the ED. Additional studies are needed to expand upon and determine the optimal use of LDK in the ED.