Propofol: the doctors’ drug

September 2, 2009 by  
Filed under ADDICTION

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syringeIs your doctor a junkie?

Everybody is suddenly talking about propofol. It’s the drug that killed Michael Jackson, right? The truth it, several substances have been found in Jackson’s system during the autopsy but propofol seems to be the most likely culprit. Just another unfortunate overdose story? Not really.

For one thing, there is more to this drug than just meet the eye.  Propofol is a commonly used anesthetic agent, used to initiate unconsciousness during surgeries. It is supposed to be fast-acting and safe. But medical professionals know better.

It is common knowledge among the medical circles that propofol  is addictive. It is also common knowledge that medical professionals, especially anesthesiologists are misusing and abusing propofol as a recreation drug.

Unbelievable, isn’t it? The very people who are supposed to prescribe and administer drugs are the ones who are most likely to abuse it. In an article in Men’s Health  last year, the question arose whether there is “a junkie in the OR.” And the answer was most likely yes. Anesthesiologists are especially prone to dependence on the drugs they handle. During surgery, these doctors are exposed to sedatives, anesthetics and other drugs, and propofol is just one of them.  One survey of 133 teaching hospitals revealed that ” faculty anesthesiologists and their anesthesiology residents were four times more likely to have had substance-abuse problems than other physicians.” It seems that drug exposure and abuse are an occupational hazard among anesthesiologists.

But here comes the most shocking of all: aside from “pilfering” and “stealing”, the hospital junkies are not really committing a crime when they shoot up propofol. You see, propofol is not a controlled drug, not considered to be a narcotic or addictive substance according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) current list of regulated drugs. While drugs as valium and codeine (found in cough syrups) are controlled and are place under certain “drug schedules”, propofol is not. Strange, isn’t it?

Controlled drugs are regulated in a lot of ways: distribution, storage, prescription, and inventory follow strict guidelines. Only certain medical professionals with special licenses are allowed to prescribe them. It is illegal to transport or carry these drugs across borders unless you have a special license. In other words, these are drugs that you just don’t leave lying around or carry in your pocket. In the case of propofol, no restrictions are in place. It is easily available and accessible to anybody working in a hospital or clinic. Really perfect for a recreation drug, isn’t it?

Michael  Jackson used propofol  as a sedative to go to sleep. Medical professional junkies just use it at subanesthetic levels to get “high” – described as a feeling of elation and sensitation. There have been previous cases of lethal overdose of propofol, including a murder case. A male nurse was found guilty of  murdering his girlfriend with propofol in 2008.

So what are the health authorities doing about this? The DEA is now under pressure and is considering to include propofol in the list of controlled drugs. It takes a lot of publicity, such as in the case of Jackson’s death, to change things for the better.

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