Journal of Emergencies, Trauma, and Shock
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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 264-268

Patient safety during rapid sequence intubation when using succinylcholine instead of nondepolarizing paralytic agents: Should we change a common rapid sequence intubation pathway?

1 Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Morsani College of Medicine, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA
2 Department of Emergency Medicine, Orlando Health, Orlando, Florida, USA

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Jason W Wilson
Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Emergency Medicine, Morsani College of Medicine, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/JETS.JETS_92_18

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Background: Succinylcholine is a depolarizing agent used for rapid sequence intubation (RIS). While the agent is the most widely used drug of choice in most emergency departments (EDs), the adverse effect profile is lengthy compared to nondepolarizing paralytic agents included rocuronium and vecuronium. Objectives: Our objective in this analysis is to detect potential safety signals and differences in safety related outcomes between patients that received succinylcholine compared to those that received rocuronium or vecuronium when undergoing RSI. Specifically, we asked whether there was a difference in all-cause mortality, whether succinylcholine was used in patient later found to have contraindications to the medication, as well as differences in the rates of rescue airway or difficult airway algorithms utilized. Methods: We utilize two clinical cases as a framework to review adverse events among ED patients undergoing RSI when using succinylcholine compared to nondepolarizing agents over a 7 years’ period at our institution as part of a quality review project. The review is retrospective and does not allow us to link adverse events specifically with drug but, instead, considers aggregate level event frequency. Results: From January 31, 2013, to January 31, 2018, there were 36,059 intubations with paralytics in the ED (75.39% with succinylcholine and 24.61% with rocuronium or vecuronium). There was no evidence of death or associated adverse events in 98.49% of patients. Of 36,059 intubations, 14 patients expired, representing 0.039% of all RSI encounters. There were 39/100,000 total deaths during RSI events. There was a higher rate of mortality in the combined vecuronium/rocuronium group (90/100,000) compared to the sample of patients intubated with succinylcholine (22/100,000). Conclusions: While the succinylcholine adverse effect profile is concerning, data from our institution does not support removal of the agent as an available option for RSI as the mortality rate among patients receiving succinylcholine was lower than that of patients receiving non-depolarizing agents. Patient level data will be needed in future work to further understand why the all-cause mortality rate was higher in the group receiving rocuronium or vecuronium and whether those patients had increased risk of mortality from underlying disease at time of presentation.

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