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. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.
"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 health care professionals.
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 recovery time, with fewer side effects than other anesthetics.
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 physical abuse. 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 preferred drug 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'