Pharmacological treatment of hyperactive delirium in people with COVID-19: rethinking conventional approaches.
People with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) might have several risk factors for delirium, which could in turn notably worsen the prognosis. Although pharmacological approaches for delirium are debated, haloperidol and other first-generation antipsychotics are frequently employed, particularly for hyperactive presentations. However, the use of these conventional treatments could be limited in people with COVID-19, due to the underlying medical condition and the risk of drug-drug interactions with anti-COVID treatments. On these premises, we carried out a rapid review in order to identify possible alternative medications for this particular population. By searching PubMed and the Cochrane Library, we selected the most updated systematic reviews of randomised trials on the pharmacological treatment of delirium in both intensive and non-intensive care settings, and on the treatment of agitation related to acute psychosis or dementia. We identified medications performing significantly better than placebo or haloperidol as the reference treatment in each population considered, and assessed the strength of association according to validated criteria. In addition, we collected data on other relevant clinical elements (i.e. common adverse events, drug-drug interactions with COVID-19 medications, daily doses) and regulatory elements (i.e. therapeutic indications, contra-indications, available formulations). A total of 10 systematic reviews were included. Overall, relatively few medications showed benefits over placebo in the four selected populations. As compared with placebo, significant benefits emerged for quetiapine and dexmedetomidine in intensive care unit (ICU) settings, and for none of the medications in non-ICU settings. Considering also data from indirect populations (agitation related to acute psychosis or dementia), aripiprazole, quetiapine and risperidone showed a potential benefit in two or three different populations. Despite limitations related to the rapid review methodology and the use of data from indirect populations, the evidence retrieved can pragmatically support treatment choices of frontline practitioners involved in the COVID-19 outbreak, and indicate future research directions for the treatment of delirium in particularly vulnerable populations.