Problems with propofol prompt a crackdown

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Problems with propofol prompt a crackdown

In March, Amy, a 31-year-old TV variety show performer, collapsed while having her nails done in a shop in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, and was found to have an intravenous needle stuck in her arm and five 60-milliliter bottles of propofol in her handbag. Amy was arrested for the alleged illegal possession and usage of propofol - the drug that helped kill entertainer Michael Jackson - and her trial starts this Thursday.

Several highly publicized cases like Amy’s have shown that Korea has a propofol problem. Used along with anaesthesia in medical procedures, the drug has an amnesiac effect. People who misuse it largely want a feeling of being rested like Jackson did, although it is also used as a date-rape drug or recreationally for a high.

It is highly addictive and there have been one or two propofol overdose deaths each year recently.

The supply of propofol to Korean medical centers jumped nearly threefold over the past three years. Last year, the government classified it as a psychotropic drug, which requires greater monitoring by the Korea Food and Drug Administration. But that didn’t prevent a 12 percent increase in the use of the drug in the past year. The drug has been sold over the Internet, in drug stores and sometimes by doctors.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Food and Drug Administration proposed that the government directly regulate narcotic drugs from manufacturing to prescription.

The ministry referred to 11 “narcotic” drugs, also including midazolam, ketamine and morphine.

The Health Ministry said it will track those drugs through all stages through radio-frequency identification chips, wireless tags that can transfer data used for identifying and tracking items.

All drugs will have serial numbers so health officials can follow them from production to distribution.

Hospitals, medical clinics and pharmacies will be required to report their usage of such drugs to health officials each month.

Because narcotic drugs are not covered by insurance, health officials have had a hard time monitoring their distribution.

By the end of November, the Korea Food and Drug Administration plans to inspect 406 medical clinics that have increased their purchases of narcotic drugs. “We will target those establishments who have doubled their use of propofol compared to last year,” A KFDA official said.

A 44-year-old doctor who provided propofol to Amy told prosecutors in the case yesterday, “There are many more celebrities and female adult entertainment workers who get injected with the drug.”

He professed to having a detailed list of them.

By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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