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More Health Care Workers Abusing Anesthetics

Propofol poses an increasing addiction risk for doctors and nurses, a study finds.

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Propofol is intended as a sedative...
for patients.

By Valerie Tejeda

03/27/13

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Abuse of anesthesia drug propofol is a rising problem among health care professionals, according to a new study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. The anesthetic (also known as Diprivan) is used to sedate patients for surgery and other medical procedures. It is fast-acting and has few side effects, including a quick recovery time, making it more widely used than other anesthetics. But propofol is highly addictive; it was among the mix of drugs in singer Michael Jackson’s system at the time of his death in 2009. Based on data on substance abuse among health care workers, researchers found a steady increase in the number of professionals seeking treatment for propofol addiction between 1990 and 2010. Records showed 13 doctors, eight nurses, and one dentist had sought treatment for propofol, most of them anesthesia providers with easy access to the drug. About half began treatment after accidents, such as car crashes; some were injured after passing out from injecting themselves. Five were admitted to treatment after being discovered unconscious, the researchers noted. “Propofol addiction is a virulent and debilitating form of substance dependence with a rapid downhill course," write Dr. Paul Earley and Dr. Torin Finver of Georgia Health Professionals Program Inc. More women were found to abuse the drug than men, and many abusers showed a history of depression and childhood abuse. Researchers suggest that identifying childhood abuse, depression history and patterns of injury may be helpful in spotting and treating propofol abuse.

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