Study shows rising rate of propofol abuse by health care professionals

March 18, 2013

Abuse of the anesthesia drug propofol is a "rapidly progressive form of substance dependence" that is being more commonly seen among health care professionals, reports a study in the April Journal of Addiction Medicine, the official journal of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

"Propofol addiction is a virulent and debilitating form of substance dependence" with a "rapid downhill course," write Drs Paul Earley and Torin Finver of Georgia Health Professionals Program, Inc, Atlanta. Their study identifies some emerging characteristics and consequences of propofol abuse among .

Propofol Abuse: Rates and Risk Factors

Data from an addiction center specializing in substance abuse problems among health care professionals identified 22 patients treated for propofol abuse from 1990 to 2010. Propofol is a drug widely used to induce anesthesia for surgery and sedation for other procedures. It is commonly used because it has a rapid onset and quick , with fewer side effects than other .

The number of health care professionals treated for propofol abuse increased steadily during the period studied, although increased recognition by addiction center staff may have played a role. The patients were thirteen physicians, eight nurses, and one dentist. Most of the physicians and all of the nurses were anesthesia providers, who had ready access to propofol.

Patients using propofol were more likely to be women, compared to health care professionals abusing alcohol or other drugs. Most propofol abusers had depression, along with a history of childhood sexual or . In addition, most of the propofol-abusing health care professionals reported a family history of substance abuse, and a higher than expected number had family members with schizophrenia.

The patients generally started using propofol to get to sleep. However, they quickly developed characteristics of addiction, with propofol becoming a of abuse. Most patients came for addiction treatment within a few months after starting to use propofol. Five patients came to treatment after a single propofol binge.

Side Effects of Propofol Abuse 'Begin Almost Immediately'

"When humans abuse propofol, unintended side effects begin almost immediately," Drs Earley and Finver write. About half of propofol abusers entered addiction treatment after dramatic events such as car crashes or other injuries. Some sustained facial injuries when they passed out immediately after injecting propofol.

Five patients were admitted into treatment when they were discovered unconscious. These characteristics reflect the "narrow window between desired effect and unconsciousness" and the rapid loss of control over propofol use, according to the authors.

"Propofol dependence is a rapidly progressive form of seen in 1.6 percent of all health care cases reporting to treatment," Drs Earley and Finver conclude. Within the limitations of the data, the study suggests that propofol abuse by health care professionals is increasing—particularly among physician and nurse anesthesia providers with ready access to anesthetics.

Some characteristics of the patients studied—including their history of depression and childhood trauma and patterns of physical injury—have important implications for identification and treatment of propofol abuse by health care professionals. Drs Earley and Finver add, "Outcome studies…are needed to help solve the difficult decisions of when and if a propofol-abusing professional should return to their high-risk work environment."

Explore further: Recovery from propofol anesthesia may be sped by use of common stimulant

Related Stories

Recovery from propofol anesthesia may be sped by use of common stimulant

April 5, 2012
The ability of the commonly used stimulant methylphenidate (Ritalin) to speed recovery from general anesthesia appears to apply both to the inhaled gas isoflurane, as previously reported, and to the intravenous drug propofol. ...

Docs facing questions about 'Michael Jackson drug'

October 20, 2011
(AP) -- Doctors sometimes call the anesthesia drug by its nickname - milk of amnesia. Patients are calling it the "Michael Jackson drug."

Metabolic patterns of propofol, sevoflurane differ in children

October 26, 2012
(HealthDay)—For children undergoing routine anesthesia for medically indicated magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the metabolic signature varies with use of sevoflurane and propofol, according to a study published in the ...

Anesthesia regimen linked to post-orthognathic op pain

July 31, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Patients undergoing orthognathic maxillofacial surgery experience more pain postoperatively if they receive anesthesia with propofol and remifentanil versus inhalational agents and longer-acting opioids, according ...

Recommended for you

Marijuana use amongst youth stable, but substance abuse admissions up

August 15, 2017
While marijuana use amongst youth remains stable, youth admission to substance abuse treatment facilities has increased, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Report reveals underground US haven for heroin, drug users

August 8, 2017
A safe haven where drug users inject themselves with heroin and other drugs has been quietly operating in the United States for the past three years, a report reveals.

Regular energy drink use linked to later drug use among young adults

August 8, 2017
Could young adults who regularly consume highly caffeinated energy drinks be at risk for future substance use? A new study by University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol ...

Gamblers more likely to have suffered childhood traumas, research shows

August 2, 2017
Men with problem and pathological gambling addictions are more likely to have suffered childhood traumas including physical abuse or witnessing violence in the home, according to new research.

Incorporating 12-step program elements improves youth substance-use disorder treatment

July 26, 2017
A treatment program for adolescents with substance-use disorder that incorporates the practices and philosophy of 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) produced even better results than the current state-of-the ...

Concern with potential rise in super-potent cannabis concentrates

July 21, 2017
University of Queensland researchers are concerned the recent legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia may give rise to super-potent cannabis concentrates with associated harmful effects.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.