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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 55 (2013) 3, 183 - 192

Review article

Droperidol for the treatment of acutely agitated patients: still an option

L. Budiharto, J. De Fruyt

In Flemish emergency psychiatry droperidol is still an option for the treatment of agitation. However, its efficacy and safety are contested.
aim To find out whether the continuing use of droperidol to treat agitation is justified on scientific grounds.
method Randomised controlled trials of droperidol (intramuscular or intravenous) were traced via a systematic search of the literature. These data were supplemented with a description of the drug’s most important pharmacological properties and a survey of the literature on cardiac side-effects and of the place accorded to droperidol in some guidelines.
results The efficacy and safety of droperidol (im/iv) were studied in 8 randomised control-led trials: 352 patients treated with droperidol. Droperidol was compared with benzodiazepines, antipsychotics and combination treatment. A single injection of droperidol was successful in 64-92% of patients. Droperidol tended to act faster and be more effective than haloperidol and lorazepam. There were very few side-effects. No clinically important cardiac side-effects were reported; this is also in keeping with evidence revealed in systematic reviews on the subject. The ecological validity of the trials was high.
conclusion In spite of a decline in the popularity of droperidol in most guidelines, the drug still seems to play a valuable role in the treatment of the agitated patient. Because it acts rapidly over a short period of time and is safe to use in patients with high (co)morbidity, it is still in favour with many health professionals.

keywords acute agitation, droperidol, emergency psychiatry, rapid tranquillisation