From the Journals

Higher ‘chemical restraint’ rates in Black psych patients in the ED


Combatting the forces of racism

When researchers accounted for the percent of hospital population that was Black, they found that patient race no longer affected the likelihood of chemical restraint.

“We found the key source of this racial disparity in use of chemical sedation is accounted for by the fact that hospitals that treat a higher proportion of Black patients tend to use more sedation,” said Dr. Khatri.

“Our findings suggest that patients who present to hospitals that serve a patient population that is 60% Black would have [a] roughly 1.8 times likelihood of getting chemically sedated, compared with a hospital that serves a population that is 10% Black,” she added.

“When a hospital has fewer resources, they often don’t have the staff or time to de-escalate a patient in distress and can have to resort to chemical sedation more quickly than a hospital with ample staff and resources,” said Dr. Friedman in a release.

Dr. Khatri added that the study highlights the need to combat the forces of racism by focusing not just on provider bias but by addressing the “underlying structural issues that lead to Black patients getting worse care based on where they live.”

“Hospitals have unequal distribution of resources and quality, largely patterned on the racial makeup of their patients. Dedicated training and funding for de-escalation techniques as well as sufficient staffing and availability of outpatient mental health care may help keep both patients and staff safe by reducing the use of physical restraint and chemical sedation in appropriate circumstances,” said Dr. Khatri.

Dr. Friedman noted that there will always be a need for restraint use to facilitate rapid medical evaluation and stabilization of patients, but “we want to make it as humane, thoughtful, and rare as possible, and to have a large armamentarium of alternative strategies that can be equitably applied across emergency departments.”

Need for widespread, systemic change

Commenting on the findings, Regina James, MD, the American Psychiatric Association’s chief of Diversity and Health Equity and deputy medical director, said the large-scale study confirms the widespread existence of racial and ethnic disparities in patients with psychiatric disorders.

Dr. Regina James, American Psychiatric Association chief of Diversity and Health Equity and deputy medical director Courtesy American Psychiatric Association

Dr. Regina James

“This study and previous studies, not only in psychiatry but in other areas of medicine, all bring to light that there continues to be evidence of racial and ethnic disparities in health care, and this is consistent across a range of illnesses and health care services,” said Dr. James.

“It’s important that as we think about the solution, we also think about the etiology of the problem and the layers that have contributed to it – understanding, embracing, and recognizing that these differences didn’t just come up de novo. It’s policies, practices, and behaviors that got us to this point, and it’s going to be policies, practices, and behaviors that are going to move us away from this point,” noted Dr. James.

She added that future research should focus on further understanding which factors exacerbate agitation among patients and what resources directed at the hospital level, including de-escalation training, nursing staff, and waiting room crowding, may be effective at reducing the use of chemical sedation when clinically appropriate.

The authors and Dr. James report no relevant financial conflicts of interest.

A version of this article first appeared on


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