Propofol Abuse in Health Professionals


There are certain abusable substances that haven’t reached the addict on the street, either because they are unappealing to the masses or because they are difficult to obtain.

Propofol, a drug used in anesthesia, is one, and addiction to it is almost completely confined to medical professionals with access at work.

Propofol (brand name, Diprivan) isn’t even classified as having a high potential for abuse by the DEA. The information provided by the manufacturer to physicians says, “Rare cases of self-administration of DIPRIVAN Injectable Emulsion by health care professionals have been reported, including some fatalities.” A study reported in Science News Daily this month seems to show the situation is changing.

Does the name ring a bell?

Propofol was the drug identified in Michael Jackson's death. It is a sedative/hypnotic used to induce anesthesia for surgery, or, at lower doses, for emergency or office procedures. Considered very safe when used under physician supervision, propofol can be found in emergency rooms and surgical suites across the U.S.

According to reports, propofol also causes a rapid onset of dependence, and healthcare workers who experiment with it (perhaps as a sleep aid) can quickly become dependent. The study mentioned above reported on an uptick of medical professionals seeking addiction treatment at one facility where the drug of choice was propofol.

Originally used as a sleep-aid in most cases

Treatment for propofol abuse saw an increase from 1990 to 2010. This doesn’t necessarily mean more doctors and nurses are using the drug; it may simply mean that more are seeking treatment or that treatment center staff are better able to recognize the pattern of abuse.

Interestingly, women were more likely to abuse propofol than men, and depression was the most common self-diagnosis and reason for starting on the drug. Getting to sleep was the original purpose for taking propofol, but addiction symptoms developed quickly.

In the Michael Jackson case, insomnia was also cited as the reason for administration. If there is a positive note, in the study, health care professionals came to treatment very early in the addiction cycle – several after just a single binge experience with the drug.


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