Physicians hypnotized by Propofol

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Physicians hypnotized by Propofol

The growing recreational use of Propofol, a short-acting hypnotic agent, requires administrative and public attention as more people are becoming addicted and more lives are being lost.

The drug - dubbed the “milk of amnesia” because of its milky white appearance - has been overprescribed by local health care and medical institutions as a sedative during plastic surgery and for other medical treatments.

But physicians and patients have also begun abusing it because of its short-term side effects, which induce feelings of mild euphoria and can even cause hallucinations. Long-term use can lead to addiction.

According to government documents submitted to the National Assembly in response to a legislative questioning session, some medical institutions are prescribing Propofol injections too readily to help ease patients’ anxiety.

The Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service discovered that more institutions are giving the drug to patients 10 times a month, despite it having been designated last year as an addictive substance and one that requires strict control and management.

The water-soluble emulsion is often stolen from hospitals and sold at drug stores without prescription. It is even traded on the Internet for recreational use and to relieve fatigue. At this rate, the level of abuse will increase, meaning it must be stamped out at an early stage before its use becomes rampant.

However, there are few legal measures to prevent its misuse. For now, health authorities can start by cutting their subsidies for the drug. But more effective measures are sorely needed to restrict its application to clinical usage.

First of all, medical and health care professionals and institutions should keep the drug under strict administration. They must report prescriptions of all drugs that pose a risk of addiction to the authorities regardless of insurance requirements. They must also develop an automated system to prevent frequent and repeat prescriptions.

Propofol should be accessible only to certified anaesthetists and institutions with appropriate resuscitative equipment nearby to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

Physicians and health organizations should join a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of its misuse. As many as 15 Koreans have died from overdoses of the drug from 2000 to 2011.
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