Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Is It Wrong To Medicate To The Point Of Needing Ventilation – Question from mpatk

Image credit.

In the comments to Where is the Line Between Good Pain Management and Bad, mpatk write the following –

To clarify, would you consider it acceptable to sedate to the point of requiring assisted ventilation for a sufficiently painful injury (e.g. multiple long bone fx’s)?


I have not needed to ventilate any of these patients, but I have added oxygen to keep some patients’ oxygen saturation above 93%.

Would it be wrong to medicate to the point of needing to ventilate?

There was a time when I would have taken the position that this is an indication of bad pain management/bad sedation, but I no longer agree with that.

We are there to provide appropriate care for the patient, not appropriate care for the patient up to the point of needing to assist with ventilation.

Most medical directors will probably disagree with me, but medical directors are getting better at encouraging appropriate pain management and sedation.

You, and I, do not have access to ketamine, but ketamine would be the ideal drug for many painful injuries. Ketamine provides sedation, analgesia, and dissociation, but generally does not cause any respiratory depression. Ketamine can occasionally cause laryngospasm, but that is easy to manage. I need to follow up on some earlier posts on ketamine and laryngospasm.[1],[2],[3]

But we do not have ketamine. should our patients suffer because we do not have the best drug for these patients?


What is going to happen in the hospital?

The patient is going to need surgery, which generally involves ventilation through an endotracheal tube, or an LMA (Laryngeal Mask Airway). We could anticipate that and place an airway for ventilation.

We could give tiny titrated doses of naloxone (for suspected opioid-induced hypoventilation) and/or tiny titrated doses of flumazenil (for suspected benzodiazepine-induced hypoventilation).

This problem is not a lack of oxygenation, because we could treat that with a higher concentration of oxygen. This is a problem of inadequate removal of CO2 (Carbon DiOxide), or it is a combined problem of hypoxia and hypercarbia.

There is a discussion of procedural sedation by Dr. Al Sacchetti that is essential listening for anyone who provides sedation and/or pain management.[4]

Why should paramedics listen to this? Because this is important material to understand to be good at sedation and pain management.

Pay attention to the whole presentation, because Dr. Sacchetti makes some excellent points.

Most relevant to what I am writing is what he says from 27:00 to 28:15.

Would an LMA have been more appropriate? Maybe. Maybe not.

At 29:30 Dr. Sacchetti says –

The medication with the lowest complication rate is . . .
Propofol (Diprivan)?

Midazolam (Versed)?

Ketamine (Ketalar)?


Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)?

Fentanyl (Sublimaze)?

What do you think was the safest drug (lowest complication rate)?











Zero major complications.

At 30:00 he puts the safety of fentanyl and etomidate (EMS medications) in perspective, when compared with ketamine and propofol, which are often considered too dangerous for EMS.

Fentanyl has the highest complication rate followed by etomidate.

This list is in alphabetical order, not in order of complications, or number of patients, or . . . .

Perspective is important.

Airway management skill is essential.

Limiting EMS to the least safe medications does not protect patients.


[1] Laryngospasm, hypoxia, excited delirium, and ketamine – Part I
Thu, 21 Jun 2012
Rogue Medic

[2] Laryngospasm, hypoxia, excited delirium, and ketamine – Part I
Mon, 25 Jun 2012
Rogue Medic

[3] Serious adverse events during procedural sedation with ketamine – Part I
Thu, 27 Sep 2012
Rogue Medic

[4] Al Sacchetti: Procedural Sedation in the Community ED
April 28, 2010
Free Emergency Medicine Talks
Al Sacchetti
Page with free download of presentation in mp3 format.

The reference is to the ProSCED registry, which is described in the papers below – both are free.

Procedural sedation in the community emergency department: initial results of the ProSCED registry.
Sacchetti A, Senula G, Strickland J, Dubin R.
Acad Emerg Med. 2007 Jan;14(1):41-6. Epub 2006 Aug 31.
PMID: 16946280 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Page With Free Full Text in PDF Download format from Academic Emergency Medicine. Click on Get PDF (97K).

The safety of single-physician procedural sedation in the emergency department.
Hogan K, Sacchetti A, Aman L, Opiela D.
Emerg Med J. 2006 Dec;23(12):922-3.
PMID: 17130600 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Free Full Text from PubMed Central.



  1. I noticed that Versed also has a high % of complications? Maybe it’s not the drug it self but adequate knowledge training with the drug. Maybe instead of just stratic lectures on pain control with morphine, Versed for example, but also some on hands in the OR & ICU.

    • Michael,

      I noticed that Versed also has a high % of complications?

      Yes, we do seem to use the least safe drugs.

      Maybe it’s not the drug it self but adequate knowledge training with the drug.

      The problems are more from the person giving the drug, than the drug.

      Still, using the safest drug, or avoiding the drugs with the most complications, is better than just using what we have always used.

      Maybe instead of just stratic lectures on pain control with morphine, Versed for example, but also some on hands in the OR & ICU.

      I think that rotations through a burn unit would be great experience for paramedics.

      Procedural sedation is something that should be done in the ED, so paramedics should be able to get experience with procedural sedation.

      Even if procedural sedation is not in the scope of practice, it is excellent experience.

      Experience dealing with compromised airways is important for EMS.

      The ability to deal with the compromised airway is essential for EMS.


  2. to quote my partner “If someone smashes their thumb with a hammer, is it the hammers falt?”