Sedative Drug Propofol Abused by People in the Medical Profession

Sedative Drug Propofol Abused by People in the Medical Profession

Even knowledgeable and seasoned doctors and nurses can abuse prescription drugs and become addicted. One sedative drug, propofol, seems to carry an especially high rate of abuse in the medical community.

Believed to be the sedative that was a contributing factor in the death of Michael Jackson, groups like the National Association of Nurse Anesthetists are encouraging stronger regulations of propofol in hospital settings as numbers of addiction cases continue to rise.

Marketed under the brand Diprivan, propofol is used in many hospitals because it works quickly as a sedative and also leaves the body rapidly, making it an effective choice for same-day procedures.

Doctors and nurses may find it appealing because it can make even a brief rest seem like the equivalent of several hours of sleep. Propofol isn’t detected in urinary drug screenings, and may not have the same drowsy effects that are often telltale signs of someone abusing a substance. Another term associated with propofol is “pronapping,” referring to medical professionals using it for their quick breaks during long work periods.

Propofol is commonly stocked in hospitals alongside various items that don’t require heavy monitoring, and its usage quantities have not been heavily observed like other painkillers. Paul Early, the director of Atlanta’s Talbott Recovery Campus (a place for medical personnel working through substance addictions) believes propofol abuse has increased because it may have fallen under the shadow of the rise in prescription drug addictions.

A 2009 Wall Street Journal article tells the story of an anesthesiologist who reported using propofol for quick naps during long shifts, up to 50 times daily. Now in recovery, he said the drug brought on sleep so quickly that he would at times collapse on the bathroom floor and become injured from the fall.

Propofol is only one drug involved in what experts say is a growing trend of medical professionals becoming addicted to drugs—the result of high stress situations on the job, extended shifts and relatively easy availability of the drugs while at work.

One of the unique dangers of propofol is that a dose even slightly above a normal level can kill within seconds. However, the manufacturers of Diprivan say that when used according to directed levels, the drug remains safe in medical settings.

Propofol is not currently listed among controlled substances by the Drug Enforcement Association, but it is likely it will be added to the list soon. Once it becomes a controlled substance, hospital staff would be required to carefully monitor quantities in inventory, keep it locked, and keep a tally of users.

Emergency personnel warn that the drug is still widely used in health situations where immediate sedation is required, and that procedures to monitor its use could cost a patient critical seconds.

Additional debate comes from the fact that once propofol becomes a controlled substance, medical professionals with addictions to it may not get help because it could mean they would lose their ability to practice.

Increased education and awareness toward propofol is called for by drug experts, especially in anesthesiology teaching programs. Future research on the abuse of propofol and similar drugs in the health community could also encourage widespread educational campaigns among medical professionals about the dangers of the drug.

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