Anesthesia Abuse Increases Among Health Care Professionals, Study Suggests

Abuse of the anesthesia drug propofol is on the rise among health care professionals who have easy access to it, a new study suggests.

The study found the number of health care professionals treated for abuse of the drug has increased steadily, the Star Tribune reports. Most of these professionals began using propofol to get to sleep, and quickly became addicted.

Propofol is used for surgery and other procedures. It takes effect quickly, and has a fast recovery time, with fewer side effects than other anesthetics, the article notes. The researchers state in a news release, “Propofol addiction is a virulent and debilitating form of substance dependence” with a “rapid downhill course.”

They studied data from an addiction center specializing in substance abuse among health care professionals, and found 22 patients treated for propofol abuse between 1990 and 2010. They included doctors, nurses and a dentist. Most of the doctors and all of the nurses were anesthesia providers. Most of them had depression, in addition to a history of childhood sexual or physical abuse. A higher than expected number of patients had family members with schizophrenia.

Most of the patients began addiction treatment within a few months after starting to use the drug; five sought treatment after just one propofol binge. About half of patients started treatment after a dramatic event, such as a motor vehicle accident. Some patients received facial injuries after passing out from propofol.

The study will appear in the April issue of the Journal of Addiction Medicine.