Two charged for tainted propofol

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Two charged for tainted propofol

Authorities said Thursday that they had booked a doctor and a nurse from a plastic surgery clinic in the posh Gangnam District for collecting leftover propofol and injecting it in two female patients early this year during fat-grafting procedures that left one dead.

Both patients, a Chinese woman and a Korean woman, were hospitalized for septic shock, the second of whom later died.

Propofol is a powerful anesthetic that can be fatal in large doses.

Seoul police officers sent the case to the prosecution Monday following an eight-month investigation that was sporadically hampered by false accounts, lingering doubts and unremitting denials.

When the clinic was raided in April, authorities discovered that leftover propofol had been stored in refrigerators.

But one of the key pieces of information in the investigation came from an assistant nurse at the office, who told authorities in May that her colleague, a 27-year-old nurse surnamed Jang, had retrieved used bottles of propofol from the waste bin.

Some if not all of the 50 cc bottles had come in contact with other waste for more than a week, according to the woman, a 30-year-old only identified by the surname Choi.

The assistant nurse added that Jang was ordered by a doctor at the clinic, who alerted the office at the last minute ahead of a long schedule of operations that it was short of the required drug.

The doctor, surnamed Jeong, 37, denied any involvement, claiming he “never gave orders to reuse propofol” and that his “employees acted voluntarily.”

Jang denied that account, however, saying she had been instructed by the doctor.

Police on Monday filed a detention warrant for both suspects, which was dismissed by the court, citing the unlikelihood that the two would attempt to flee or destroy evidence.

The clinic had reportedly agreed to settle the case out of court with the victims’ parents, offering some 200 million won ($177,400) to each family.

The case dates back to Feb. 23, when the first patient, a 20-year-old Chinese woman, came into contact with the contaminated substance during a fat-grafting operation, in which fat is removed from one part of the body to supplement another area.

The patient developed a high fever soon after the procedure and her blood pressure plummeted. She was hospitalized for septic shock, an infection of the blood, but discharged two days later.

On Feb. 26, the clinic used a similar drug on the second patient, a 29-year-old Korean woman surnamed Kim. She was transported to a nearby hospital after developing similar symptoms and died two days later from organ failure.

According to police, Kim was taken to the hospital by the clinic’s nurse instead of by ambulance.

Jeong allegedly said at the time that he could not accompany them because he “had other surgeries to perform.”

Kim’s family was reportedly unaware that their daughter had been exposed to tainted anesthetic and initially believed her death was due to a botched medical operation.

They were alerted to the allegations during the investigation.

Police have yet to clarify whether there are any more victims.

During the probe, authorities also discovered that the clinic had falsified dates for other propofol deliveries.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, CHAE SEUNG-KI [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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