Propofol is used for general anesthesia for surgeries. It is often referred as the “milk of amnesia”. The drug was projected to top headlines as the drug that had caused the late Michael Jackson’s death. Investigations would go on to show that Jackson had traveled and toured with an anesthesiologist on his staff. This would suggest that he had an addiction to the drug for a long time. Two years after his death that physician would be indicted for involuntary manslaughter. As a result of the coverage the drug gained from Jackson‘s death it is being experimented with more and more. Yet, scientists today continue to work to determine if the substance is addictive.

What is Propofol?

Propofol is not considered to be a controlled substance by the United States government. It is used in general anesthesia to put people into a semi-coma. It is incredibly fast acting. Once the drug is administered, intravenously, it can render a person unconscious in 40 seconds. If the drug is not continuously given to the individual they will wake in roughly four to five minutes. It is not completely understood how the drug works, but it is estimated that the drug works on the GABA receptors in the brain. This drug is not a sleeping agent nor is it a painkiller. The drug was first introduced in 1977 by Imperial Chemicals, but it was hard to manufacture. Scientists were able to figure out how to stabilize it with egg emulsifiers and keep it from chemical contamination. The high fat content in the drug created these difficulties, which is why it is in short supply. The high rates of tainted vials have caused considerable damage to patients and the manufacturers. Several companies have had considerable issues with contaminated doses, which have led to hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits; individuals have contracted hepatitis from the drug.

The drug is more commonly known by the trade-name “Diprivan”. This name reflects the phrase di-isopropyl intravenous anesthetic. The drug comes in a milky white form that reflects light as a result of the high fat content. It contains 1%propofol, 10% soy bean oil, 1.2% purified egg emulsifier, and 2.25% glycerol. This drug replaced nearly all other surgery anesthesia drugs around 1990. It was used more commonly, over sodium pentothal, because it is fast acting, wears off more quickly, and is less likely to induce vomiting or sleepiness. The drug is used in more than 50 countries and in over 75% of surgeries. Propofol’s only legal use is in surgeries and for lethal injections.

The Side Effects of Propofol Use

The majority of those who use Propofol experience minor side effects from use. Allergic reactions and other side effects include difficulty breathing, slowed breath, fast or irregular heart rate, low blood pressure, fainting, numbness or tingling in feet or skin, muscle spasm, cough, itching swollen face, hives tightness in chest, wheezing, pain and seizures. Propofol Infusion syndrome is possible, but rare and can lead to death. This syndrome is characterized by breakdown of heart muscle, kidney failure, and ceased breathing. The drug is not recommended for those suffering from: irregular heartbeat, blood vessel diseases, heart disease, high cholesterol, seizures, pancreatitis, head injuries, or who are pregnant. The drug should not be used by those on other medications, unless approved by physician, because it reacts with 226 drugs. These drugs include, but are not limited to: alcohol, barbiturates, St. John’s Wort, sleeping medicines, cold and weight loss medications, medications for mental illnesses, and pain killers.

Propofol Abuse and Addiction

As previously stated Propofol is not a sleeping pill nor is it a pain killer. It is not considered a controlled substance. Injection of this drug causes users to fall asleep and then wake up in a euphoric state. There is little research about this drug and relating issues. Specialists in Addiction state that there is a significant correlation between the drugs use and those suffering from trauma. The studies that have been conducted found those who are addicted to or abuse Propofol are not looking for a “high”, but rather to escape the world by falling asleep. The presence of trauma, sexual particularly, is higher in Propofol abuse and addiction than any other drug. Users are attempting to completely block out the world by falling asleep. The surveys of those who abuse and are addicted to the drug shoot it between 50 and 100 times a day. This gives them that many instances of brief absences from the world. Every time they wake up they are elated, talkative and euphoric. The majority of abuses begin their experience with Propofol because of insomnia, which is related to trauma or post-traumatic stress syndrome or prescription drug abuse. Injecting tiny amounts of the drug causes feelings of: giddiness, loss of sexual inhibitions, feeling spacey, mellow and happy. The similarities between Propofol and alcohol were noted when the drug first came onto the market. Evidence has shown that there are a growing number of individuals who are abusing this drug. Between 2007 and 2008, the number of patients in treatment for Propofol abuse doubled. The fear among professionals is the growth of this drug as a popular recreation drug. In the past, Ketamine was used for anesthesia, but is not a popular party drug. Propofol is now being called “dancing with the white rabbit” or “pronapping”.

Dangers of Abuse

This drug should only be used in a professional medical setting because it is very dangerous. Just four teaspoons over the recommended amount could cause overdose. There is no antidote for this drug, so if someone overdoses there are not bringing them back. A study of healthcare professionals found that abuse of the drug caused a 33% death rate. The quickness of the drug can cause injury because people fall asleep so quickly. Long-term damage from the drug has yet to be discovered.

Addiction Signs for Propofol

If you believe that you are abusing, addicted, or think someone you know is there are several signs to which to look.
-Using the drug to help them fall asleep.
-Combining other drugs with Propofol
-History of severe trauma
-Enjoy escaping reality with Propofol
-Failed attempts at quitting
-Physical injury from Propofol use
-Using or finding more of the drug takes up a lot of time
-Using the drug multiple times a day
-Fear of employment or legal troubles as a result of using the drug.

Propofol Withdrawal and Treatment

Studies are continuing to discover the true dangers of Propofol abuse. Some scientists have found characteristics of the drug that suggest it is an addictive substance. Withdrawal symptoms include:

-Irregular or fast heartbeat
-State of delusion for several days
-Similar withdrawal symptoms to benzodiazepines:
-Food cravings
-Sleep disorders
-Stomach cramps

A major issue with treating Propofol addiction is getting the individual to go to treatment. A great majority of Propofol addicts are healthcare professionals that are unwilling to seek treatment for fear of their image. Treatment for abuse and addiction include detoxification, education, training, and activities to discover the root cause of addiction and treat it. Patients learn how to cope with enablers and triggers for their addiction.