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Objective: Intravenous sedation of involuntary psychiatric patients is practised in almost all hospitals in New South Wales. Despite its widespread use, little has been published about the medications used or their safety and efficacy. The present study reports the frequency and reasons for intravenous sedation, the medications used, and the incidence of adverse effects. Method: Eighteen of 21 acute psychiatric admission units in the State were reviewed. The medical records of a random sample of 495 patients admitted involuntarily during 1990 were examined and information from the progress notes, drug charts and physical observations was recorded and subjected to statistical analysis. Results: Of the 495 patients, 132 (27%) were intravenously sedated. Eighty-six per cent (86%) of patients received a combination of haloperidol or diazepam, usually 20 mg of each drug. The threat of violence was the most significant patient characteristic predicting the use of intravenous sedation. Patients with mania or intoxication were relatively more likely to be intravenously sedated than other diagnostic categories. Patients admitted via accident and emergency departments and those admitted to teaching and metropolitan general hospitals compared to rural and large psychiatric hospitals were significantly more likely to receive intravenous sedation. The most common complications of intravenous sedation were dystonia (37%), hypotension (8%) and confusion (5%). The incidence of phlebitis and other extrapyramidal side-effects was probably under-reported. Conclusion: About one in four involuntary psychiatric patients receive intravenous sedation in NSW. Intravenous sedation is more likely when patients are admitted through accident and emergency departments to teaching or metropolitan hospitals, and pose a threat of violence. Intravenous sedation was shown to be a safe procedure given certain precautions.