Drug Assisted Intubation

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    Drug Assisted Intubation - CE/NCPD

    The content in Clinical Skills is evidence based and intended to be a guide to clinical practice. Always follow your organization’s practice.


    Because neuromuscular blocking agents (NMBAs) can cause respiratory arrest, health care team members skilled in intubation must be present and ready at the bedside before the medication is administered. Ensure that an alternative airway is immediately available in case intubation fails.

    A personal or family history of malignant hyperthermia is a contraindication to succinylcholine.undefined#ref9">9 Relative contraindications include conditions that increase the risk of succinylcholine-induced hyperkalemia (e.g., hyperkalemia; myopathies or neuromuscular disorders; or burns, crush injuries, or recent severe infections).9

    Take steps to eliminate interruptions and distractions during medication preparation.

    This skill is performed by health care professionals with additional knowledge, skills, and demonstrated competence, and per the professional’s regulatory scope of practice.


    NMBAs (also called paralytics) are the foundation of emergency airway management. They allow placement of the oral endotracheal (ET) tube while minimizing potential complications, such as aspiration. There are two classes of NMBAs.

    • One class is the noncompetitive depolarizing agents, of which succinylcholine is the most common; succinylcholine depolarizes the endplates and renders muscles unable to respond to acetylcholine (ACh). Depolarizing agents are rapid in onset and short acting.9
    • The second class is the competitive, nondepolarizing NMBAs, which compete with and block the action of ACh at the postjunctional nicotinic receptors in the neuromuscular junction. This class includes vecuronium and rocuronium.

    Drug assisted intubation (DAI) is performed for these purposes:

    • To facilitate ET intubation by inducing unconsciousness and motor paralysis
    • To augment intubation of combative patients with head injuries
    • To minimize the risk of aspiration in nonfasting patients with complex airway emergencies9

    If the patient expresses concern regarding the accuracy of a medication, the medication should not be given. The concern should be explored, the intubator notified, and the order verified.


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    • Provide developmentally and culturally appropriate education based on the desire for knowledge, readiness to learn, and overall neurologic and psychosocial state.
    • Instruct the patient regarding the potential side effects of the medication. Inform the patient that medications will be given that relax the muscles temporarily so the machine will breathe for the patient. Tell the patient that team members are present to provide care and to keep the patient safe.
    • Reassure the family that the patient’s inability to move and any new decrease in level of consciousness are the desired effects of the medications.
    • If the sedation is inadequate, the patient may experience awareness, fear, and discomfort. Until adequate sedation can be attained:
      • Reassure the patient that medications will be administered to help decrease discomfort.
      • Explain that the patient will not be able to speak while the tube is in place.
      • Instruct the patient not to move or manipulate the tube in any way.
      • Inform the patient that swallowing may help diminish gagging.
    • Encourage questions and answer them as they arise.



    1. Perform hand hygiene before patient contact. Don appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) based on the patient’s need for isolation precautions or the risk of exposure to bodily fluids.
    2. Introduce yourself to the patient.
    3. If time allows, verify the correct patient using two identifiers.
    4. Assess the patient for specific contraindications to receiving sedation and NMBAs and advise the practitioner accordingly.
    5. Complete a brief neurologic assessment of the patient, including movement of the extremities.
    6. The intubator assesses the patient’s airway for potential difficulties.
    7. Ensure that alternative airway equipment per the intubator’s preference is available in case intubation fails.
      1. Supraglottic airway (laryngeal mask airway, intubating laryngeal mask airway, i-gel® supraglottic airway)2
      2. Retroglottic airway (laryngeal tube airway [King airway, LTA], intubating laryngeal tube airway [ILTA])2
      3. Surgical airway equipment
      4. Fiberoptic scope
      5. Eschmann tracheal tube introducer (gum elastic bougie)2


    1. Maintain the patient in a supine position with spinal protection, if indicated.
    2. Attach oxygen saturation and cardiac monitors.
    3. Ensure that the patient has at least one functioning IV line; two is preferable.
    4. Ensure that suction and a bag-mask device are readily available.
    5. Preoxygenate the patient with high-flow supplemental oxygen.2 If possible, avoid bag-mask ventilation to prevent gastric distention, which increases the risk of vomiting and aspiration.
    6. Ensure that all necessary medications, needles, and syringes are close at hand, whether in a kit (Box 1)Box 1 or assembled separately.
    7. Verify the patient’s actual admission weight in kilograms. Reweigh the patient if appropriate.5 Do not use stated, estimated, or historical weight.5
    8. Obtain the medication, check the practitioner’s order, verify the expiration date, and inspect the medication for particulates, discoloration, or other loss of integrity.
      Do not use medication that is cloudy or precipitated unless such is indicated by its manufacturer as being safe.
    9. Review medication reference information pertinent to the medication’s action, purpose, onset of action and peak action, normal dose, and common side effects and implications.
    10. Ensure that all appropriate antidotes, reversal agents, and rescue agents are readily available.5


    1. Perform hand hygiene and don gloves. Don additional PPE based on the patient’s need for isolation precautions or the risk of exposure to bodily fluids. Don gown, mask, and eye protection or face shield if the risk of splashing exists.
    2. If time allows, verify the correct patient using two identifiers.
    3. Explain the procedure and ensure that the patient agrees to treatment.
    4. Draw up the prescribed medications (Box 2)Box 2. Label all medications, medication containers, and other solutions. The only exceptions are medications that are still in their original container or medications that are administered immediately by the person who prepared them.6
    5. Ensure the rights of medication safety.
    6. Administer premedications as prescribed.
      1. In patients with a head injury, administer lidocaine to attenuate the increase in intracranial pressure associated with intubation if prescribed.7
      2. Administer fentanyl or etomidate to patients with increased intracranial pressure or cardiovascular disease who could be negatively impacted by increased blood pressure.7,9 Etomidate is also an induction agent and therefore serves a dual purpose.
    7. Administer the induction agent (sedative) as prescribed.
    8. Administer the NMBA as prescribed.
      The induction agent should always be administered before the NMBA.
    9. Assess the patient’s level of sedation and muscle tone, allowing for sufficient onset of action per the medication, route, and the patient’s condition.
    10. Assist the intubator with bimanual laryngoscopy if requested, using backward, upward, and rightward pressure (BURP) over the cricoid cartilage with the thumb and index finger.1
      Rationale: This maneuver can allow a better view of the glottis.
      The routine use of cricoid pressure (Sellick maneuver) for DAI or during cardiac arrest is not recommended.3,8 Cricoid pressure can worsen the laryngoscopic view.3
    11. The intubator orally intubates the patient.
    12. Verify the ET tube placement:4
      1. Attach an exhaled carbon dioxide detector and look for evidence of exhaled carbon dioxide.
      2. Look for symmetric rise and fall of the chest while auscultating over the epigastric area to detect any gurgling sounds.
      3. Auscultate for bilateral breath sounds.
    13. Inflate the cuff, and ventilate and oxygenate the patient with high-flow oxygen while manually maintaining the tube placement.
    14. Secure the ET tube.
    15. Initiate continuous waveform capnography to monitor ET tube placement.8,10
    16. If intubation is unsuccessful, anticipate that the intubator may insert a supraglottic airway (laryngeal mask airway), a retroglottic airway (laryngeal tube airway), or may perform a needle or surgical cricothyroidotomy.
    17. Ensure adequate sedation and analgesia in conjunction with NMBAs.
    18. Assess the patient’s level of sedation and muscle tone, allowing for sufficient onset of action per the medication, route, and the patient’s condition.
    19. Decompress the stomach with a gastric tube.
    20. Discard supplies, remove PPE, and perform hand hygiene.
    21. Document the procedure in the patient’s record.


    1. Confirm ET tube location with a chest radiograph.
    2. Monitor the patient for adverse and allergic reactions to the medication. Recognize and immediately treat respiratory distress and circulatory collapse, which are signs of a severe anaphylactic reaction. Follow the organization’s practice for emergency response.
    3. Assess, treat, and reassess pain.
    4. Assess and adjust the level of sedation, as ordered and indicated.
    5. Continue to monitor ET tube placement, pulse oximetry, and continuous waveform capnography. Reassess tube placement every time the patient is moved.
      Rationale: The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends continuous waveform capnography in addition to clinical assessment to monitor tube placement.8,10


    • Effective ET tube placement
    • Medication administered per the rights of medication safety


    • Esophageal intubation
    • Vasodilation, resulting in profound hypotension
    • Dislodgment of the ET tube
    • Trauma to teeth, nasal mucosa, posterior pharynx, or larynx
    • Medication not administered per the rights of medication safety


    • Name and dose of medications administered
    • Patient’s response to the medication, including any adverse reactions
    • Patient’s vital signs, oxygenation, and ventilation before, during, and after the procedure
    • Size of ET tube placed
    • Position of the ET tube in relation to the teeth or gums (in centimeters)
    • Description of the method used to secure the tube
    • Patient’s weight in kilograms
    • Validation of ET tube placement
    • Method of ventilation
    • Unexpected outcomes and related interventions
    • Education


    • When atropine is used as a premedication for emergency intubation, minimal dosing requirements no longer apply.10
    • Cuffed endotracheal tubes are preferred over uncuffed tubes in pediatric patients.10
    • Routine use of cricoid pressure is not recommended during endotracheal intubation of pediatric patients. If cricoid pressure is used, it should be discontinued if it interferes with ventilation or intubation.10


    1. American College of Surgeons (ACS). (2018). Appendix G: Skills. In ATLS: Advanced trauma life support: Student course manual (10th ed., pp. 335-375). Chicago: Author.
    2. American College of Surgeons (ACS). (2018). Chapter 2: Airway and ventilatory management. In ATLS: Advanced trauma life support: Student course manual (10th ed., pp. 22-41). Chicago: Author.
    3. Driver, B.E., Reardon, R.F. (2019). Chapter 4: Tracheal intubation. In J.R. Roberts and other (Eds.), Roberts and Hedges’ clinical procedures in emergency medicine and acute care (7th ed., pp. 62-110). Philadelphia: Elsevier.
    4. Edminster, E. (2024). Chapter 5: Airway and ventilation. In TNCC: Trauma nursing core course: Provider manual (9th ed., pp. 63-88). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
    5. Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP). (2024). 2024-2025 Targeted medication safety best practices for hospitals. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
    6. Joint Commission, The. (2024). National Patient Safety Goals for the hospital program. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
    7. Kempema, J.M., Trust, M.D., Brown, C.V.R. (2021). Chapter 14: Management of the airway. In D.V. Feliciano, K.L. Mattox, E.E. Moore (Eds.), Trauma (9th ed., pp. 215-238). New York: McGraw-Hill.
    8. Panchal, A.R. and others. (2020). Part 3: Adult basic and advanced life support: 2020 American Heart Association guidelines for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency cardiovascular care. Circulation, 142(16 Suppl. 2), S366-S468. doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000916 Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
    9. Schwartz, R.B., McCollum, D. (2019). Chapter 5: Pharmacologic adjuncts to intubation. In J.R. Roberts and others (Eds.), Roberts and Hedges’ clinical procedures in emergency medicine and acute care (7th ed., pp. 111-126). Philadelphia: Elsevier.
    10. Topjian, A.A. and others. (2020). Part 4: Pediatric basic and advanced life support: 2020 American Heart Association guidelines for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency cardiovascular care. Circulation, 142(16 Suppl. 2), S469-S523. doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000901 Retrieved March 4, 2024, from

    Clinical Review: Justin J. Milici, MSN, RN, CEN, CPEN, CPN, TCRN, CCRN, FAEN

    Published: April 2024

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