Uncontrolled substance: Propofol

Propofol (brand name Diprivan). It’s the perfect high for some:

Because it is quick-acting and rapidly leaves the system, it is convenient for routine procedures such as same-day knee and cosmetic surgery, colonoscopies and bone repair.

The qualities that make propofol a popular sedative also make it a recreational drug for some in the medical profession. It doesn’t show up in standard drug tests in the urine, and with a half-life of only five minutes, it doesn’t leave the user groggy or affect behavior in a way that signals a substance-abuse problem…

“I was injecting it 50 times a day when I was in my worst period,” says an anesthesiologist in the Midwest, who recently completed a stint in rehabilitation to kick the propofol habit. He said he began “pronapping” a couple of years ago while under stress from his job, family and finances. He hid the signs of shooting up by putting a port for a syringe on his leg, where it wasn’t visible.

At night, he would inject the drug into the port in the bathroom, where his wife assumed he was brushing his teeth. “Sometimes it acted so fast, I couldn’t get back to bed in time,” said the anesthesiologist. He would pass out on the floor, terrifying his wife, and he said that on occasion he broke his nose or cheekbone or sprained a wrist.

Now FDA is thinking of making propofol a controlled substance, which could restrict its availability. It will be a shame if the medical profession can’t control itself well enough to keep the drug widely available for those that need it.

Last time I wrote about this drug (in 2005) it was health insurers trying to take it away from patients getting colonoscopies, which I thought was a shame. Reading now how well it works it sounds like something I’d want for that procedure.

August 6, 2009

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