International research into 22 years of use of chemical restraint: An evidence overview

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Background: Chemical restraint (CR) (also known as rapid tranquilisation) is the forced (non-consenting) administration of medications to manage uncontrolled aggression, anxiety, or violence in people who are likely to cause harm to themselves or others. Our population of interest was adults with mental health disorders (with/without substance abuse). There has been a growing international movement over the past 22 years towards reducing/eliminating restrictive practices such as CR. It is appropriate to summarise the research that has been published over this time, identify trends and gaps in knowledge, and highlight areas for new research to inform practice. Aims: To undertake a comprehensive systematic search to identify, and describe, the volume and nature of primary international research into CR published since 1995. Methods: This paper reports the processes and overall findings of a systematic search for all available primary research on CR published between 1 January 1996 and 31 July 2018. It describes the current evidence base by hierarchy of evidence, country (ies) producing the research, CR definitions, study purpose, and outcome measures. Results: This review identified 311 relevant primary studies (21 RCTs; 46 non-controlled experimental or prospective observational studies; 77 cross-sectional studies; 69 retrospective studies; 67 opinion pieces, position or policy statements; and 31 qualitative studies). The USA, UK, and Australia contributed over half the research, whilst cross-country collaborations comprised 6% of it. The most common research settings comprised acute psychiatric wards (23.3%), general psychiatric wards (21.6%), and general hospital emergency departments (19.0%). Discussion: A key lesson learnt whilst compiling this database of research into CR was to ensure that all papers described non-consenting administration of medications to manage adults with uncontrolled aggression, anxiety, or violence. There were tensions in the literature between using effective CR without producing adverse events, and how to decide when CR was needed (compared with choosing non-chemical intervention for behavioural emergencies), respecting patients’ dignity whilst safeguarding their safety, and preserving safe workplaces for staff, and care environments for other patients. The range of outcome measures suggests opportunities to standardise future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)927-956
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice
Issue number3
Early online date8 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • aggressive behaviours
  • chemical restraint
  • forced medication
  • non-consent
  • violence


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