Gov’t clamping down on spread of new drug

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Gov’t clamping down on spread of new drug

The use of propofol, a drug commonly used in hospitals for general anesthesia, is gaining popularity among Koreans as a substitute for other illegal drugs, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said yesterday.

The drug gained notoriety after it was found to be linked to the death of Michael Jackson last year, prosecutors say. Seoul prosecutors indicted two doctors at plastic surgery clinics yesterday on charges of authorizing the administration of propofol to patients by unqualified personnel, including nurses’ aides. The doctors allegedly received 100,000 to 400,000 won ($86 to $344) for propofol injections for patients, which is usually sold at a price of around 10,000 won per bottle on the regular market.

Five other plastic surgeons and OBGYN doctors practicing medicine in Gangnam, southern Seoul were also arrested yesterday for similar charges, though none were detained.

Some hospitals in Seoul had advertised the propofol shots as “vitamin shots” under false pretences and sold them as packages grouped with unnecessary treatments like massages. To keep their sales of propofol under wraps from tax reports, the hospitals did not keep records of patients and took only cash for the shots.

Propofol is a strongly addictive drug that can produce short term euphoria and hallucinations. An overdose can be fatal.

Thirty-four people died in Korea from the improper use of propofol from 2000 to this year, according to prosecutors. Some of the doctors who were investigated said they were admitted to psychiatric hospitals to stop their own addictions to the drug.

Selling propofol for recreational purposes has proved to be profitable for hospitals, as some addicts have been found to have spent as much as 20 to 30 million won per month, with several shots administered per day.

A female nurses’ aide surnamed Jeon, 28, was arrested for selling and injecting 10 liters (2.64 gallons) of contaminated propofol she smuggled into Korea from China in an oil barrel. Jeon allegedly got into the business, according to prosecutors, after she heard “it made good money.”

Prosecutors are now looking into Korean celebrities and adult entertainment establishments, where they believe the drug can be easily found. Korean celebrities are seeking propofol because the drug is supposedly good for stress or insomnia, according to prosecutors.

The spread of propofol will continue to cause trouble for prosecutors until it is designated as a narcotic next year by the Korea Food and Drug Administration because there is no legal punishment for those who use the drug.

By Lee Chul-jae []
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