More than haldol

Clinical Scenario:
You are working in the ED when you see EMS roll in with the all too common "SNF" patient. An 83 yo M with the alphabet soup of co-morbid conditions. HTN, dCHF, OSA, COPD, V-tach s/p AICD, non IDDM, CKD stage III who presents the the ever ubiquitous chief complaint of altered mental status.   The patient was reported to be "off" by staff at the nursing facility, he was seen by a psychiatrist who was concerned about delirium and advised the patient be reevaluated in the ED.  Upon arrival the patient is AOx3, conversant, and pleasant.  He gets a delirium workup that is fairly unremarkable with the exception of a UA showing weak evidence of UTI. The patient is admitted to the medicine but boards in the busy ER overnight.  During his stay he becomes agitated and uncooperative.  He is now AOx1 (person) and cannot be redirected.  His thoughts are incoherent and the patient will not return to his gurney.  You make the decision to administer IV haloperidol.  The patient relaxes, is able to be redirected. 

A few hours later several family member approach you about the decision to use Haldol. They are educated, with a large amount of experience in the psychiatric field.  They ask if you are aware of the neurotoxic effects of haloperidol and emphasize the use of newer atypical antipsychotics which are neuroprotective.  You admittedly aren't that up to date on this topic, but assure them that haloperidol is used frequently at our institution for acute delirium.  You perform a brief literature review. 

Limited literature review:
You read the reference provided by the family member, which is an editorial from an online psychiatry journal citing that 28 different studies have shown neurotoxic effects of older antipsychotics based on animal models, cell culture, and post-mortem human tissue.  The author instead calls for the use of the 9 atypical antipsychotics to be used as they have reported neuroprotective properties such as neurogenesis. (1) The main difference you note is that the author comes from the perspective of using antipsychotics for long term care, while in the ED we want safe and rapid control for delirium or agitation in the short term. 

Haldol structure,

In your review you find the American Association of Emergency Psychiatry released a consensus statement/guidelines on the treatment of acute agitation in the ED.  

Here are some highlights:
1.       Prior to giving meds consider verbal redirection and nicotine replacement
2.       1st gen antipsychotics inhibit dopamine and is structurally similar to GABA
3.       When using haloperidol remember it can prolong QT (rare), cause extrapyramidal side effects (possibly as high as 20%,why it is often given with lorazepam which reduces to 6% incidence).
4.       Haloperidol is not FDA approved for IV administration (PO, IM only), although it is commonly administered this way.
5.       Second generation antipsychotics have long been preferred by outpatient psychiatrist for long term management of various psychiatric conditions. 
6.       2nd gen antipsychotics include:
a.       Olanzapine (Zyprexa), ziprasidone (Geodon), aripiprazole (Abilify) – IM and PO
b.      Risperidone (Risperdal), and quetiapine (Seroquel) – PO only
7.       2nd gen antipsychotics also antagonize dopamine, but also serotonin as well
8.       There have been very few head to head trials of 2nd generations versus Haldol.  
a.      However one double blind, placebo study compared both IM olanzapine and IM Haldol for agitation and showed that IM olanzapine reduced agitation significantly more than IM Haldol 15, 30, and 45 minutes following the first injection (2)
10.   Two studies have been conducted comparing PO risperidone and lorazepam versus IM haloperidol and lorazepam.  Data showed similar benefits to both regimens.  However, both were conducted at Psychiatric emergency centers and not typical EDs. (3)
11.   Their final recommendation for agitation associated with delirium:
a.       Oral 2nd generation
b.      Oral 1st generation
c.       IM 2nd generation – olanzapine 10 mg or ziprasidone 10- 20 mg
d.      IM or IV 1st generation
12.   Peak concentration for PO meds is fairly similar to IM with exception of olanzapine (6h for PO)
13.   IM meds peak concentration is approx. 15-45 minutes for both classes

The consensus statement does not discuss the “neurotoxic” effects of haloperidol previously mentioned in the editorial citing non-living human studies. 

Take home points:
So which agent do you use? The theoretical neurotoxic effects of haloperidol seems to be more of a potential issue for long term psychiatric disease.  ED concerns should focus on causing extrapyramidal side effects or excess sedation.  The data for 2nd generation antipsychotics use in the ED  is limited, however there is some data to show their efficacy in controlling of acute agitation. 

Expert Commentary:
Dr. Holthaus Comments: Nice summary Dr. Miller!  The one additional consideration I wanted to share about carte blanche 5/2 (Haldol/Ativan) for all comers is the potential clinical “down time” (ranging anywhere from 3-6+ hours depending on comorbidities/age/habitus/co-ingestants) and its impact on prolonging ED LOS while “waiting” for the patient to recover enough to allow a formal psychiatric interview and then to make the final disposition decision (all compounding time in series). 
     Potential alternate ways around this in my opinion are to 1) Ask psychiatry to evaluate them while acutely psychotic (if available/present and safe) then administer the 5/2 and get labs/etc. allowing an earlier psychiatric disposition to be made as medical etiologies are ruled out in parallel.  2) If psychiatry is unavailable or it's unsafe then consider giving something else that has less back side down time but can achieve a similar up front clinical effect: adequate onset time/calming-sedating enough to allow restraints/seclusion/redirection and at least 1-2 hours for lab-imaging acquisition/results, is safe (and titratable if more is needed), and allows a potentially earlier metabolic window for mental clarity/off set that is amenable to a formal psychiatric interview.  This is in my mind, preferably midazolam (or diazepam if no midazolam) with an IV onset less than 5min, can be quickly/safely titrated to effect, and can also be given IM.  Granted bezodiazepines can potentially worsen delirium but generally if they’re shorter acting and less likely to be hanging around this makes this less likely to persist.  I agree benzos do not directly address their psychosis like the anti-psychotics but my counter-argument would be that these could be administered later if still needed.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with 5/2 but I like it best after a disposition is made (and it also carries the added advantage of making the nurses happier in regards to behavior management and puts people out of their misery while waiting forever for a bed).  However, I will think twice now after Dr. Miller’s analysis and consider more second generation use if using antipsychotics for acute agitation management.

Submitted by Christopher Miller,  PGY-2
Edited by Louis Jamtgaard, PGY-3 @Lgaard
Faculty Reviewed by Chris Holthaus


2) Wright P, Birkett M, David SR, et al. Double-blind, placebo-controlled comparison of intramuscular olanzapine and intramuscular haloperidol in the treatment of acute agitation in schizophrenia. Am J Psychiatry. 2001;158:1149-1151.

3) Wilson et al. The psychopharmacology of agitation: consensus statement of the american association for emergency psychiatry project Beta psychopharmacology workgroup. West J Emerg Med. 2012, 13(1), 26-34.

Additional References:
Currier et al. J Clin Psychiatry. 2004, 65(3), 386-94.

Wilson et al.  Despite expert recommendations, second-generation antipsychotics are not often prescribed in the emergency department.  J Emerg Med. 2014, 46(6), 808-13.