This retrospective study examines the indications and the effects of 119 doses of succinylcholine or pancuronium given in the emergency department during a 24-month period to patients considered to have immediately life-threatening emergencies. The most common indication for succinylcholine was to accomplish tracheal intubation (20 of 25 patients). Indications for pancuronium included computerized tomography of the head (60 of 94), control of agitation (40 of 94), facilitation of tracheal intubation (20 of 94), control of ventilation (12 of 94), and control of seizure unresponsive to anticonvulsants (4 of 94). Deterioration following succinylcholine occurred in three cases. These included two involving bradycardia and one involving ventricular tachycardia. Major complications following pancuronium included four incidences of ventricular arrhythmias. Intubation failure requiring surgical airway occurred in one patient given succinylcholine, two patients given pancuronium, and one patient who received both succinylcholine and pancuronium. Inadequate documentation of neurological examination prior to blockade was noted in six of 25 succinylcholine and nine of 94 pancuronium cases. Failure to sedate patients who might be aware of paralysis occurred in three of 25 succinylcholine and eight of 94 pancuronium uses. Neuromuscular blocking agents facilitate expeditious management of selected critical patients in the ED. Their prudent use requires anticipation of potential complications, preparation for surgical airway should intubation fail, documentation of physical examination before paralysis, and prior sedation when the patient responds to pain.