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Propofol Abuse in Healthcare Professionals

Propofol Abuse in Healthcare Professionals

Propofol abuse in medical professionals is on the rise. Also known as the infamous drug that killed Michael Jackson in 2009, propofol is an anesthetic that’s given to patients to produce relaxation and sleepiness before and during surgery and other medical procedures. It’s available under brand names like Diprivan, Anesthesia S/I-40, and Anesthesia S/I-60. 

Our Chicago rehab center is taking a look at propofol abuse by healthcare providers to determine what drives these professionals into a habit they’d never recommend to patients.   

Is Propofol Addictive? 

There’s growing evidence that propofol mimics the effects of other addictive substances – such as alcohol and nicotine – thus granting it the potential for abuse and addiction. What’s more, similar studies on the drug’s potential for addiction have also found that its abuse is common among the same professionals who prescribe and have access to it.   

According to research, while propofol’s principal mechanism of action is to enhance gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) activity to produce sedation, it’s also believed to act on dopamine in the brain, not only producing the sedative effects but also increasing the activity of dopamine.1 Dopamine is a neurotransmitter linked to euphoria, a sense of well-being, and improved mood.  

Dopamine is released naturally in the brain when we do something enjoyable, such as eating. Propofol’s addictive nature is linked to its effects on dopamine, meaning it could lead to a sensation of euphoria and sedation similar to that of opioids.  

There’s also growing evidence that propofol can be self-administered, similar to how drugs like heroin are used intravenously. This, combined with the high rate of mortality from repeated propofol use, warrants a necessity to develop regulations on its accessibility, even for the professionals who administer it to patients.1  

With mounting evidence that propofol poses a risk of addiction and abuse, hospitals and regulatory agencies should consider certifying it as a controlled substance to minimize incidents such as overdoses and substance use disorders.  

Propofol Abuse Symptoms 

Studies have shown an increase in propofol misuse and addiction, specifically among the professionals with access to the drug. An analysis of 22 cases of propofol abuse in medical professionals treated at an addiction treatment center between 1990 and 2010 found that there was a 25% increase in admissions linked to the drug. 1  

Anesthesia providers made up most of the cases reported, and all providers had relatively easy access to the drug. Common self-reported reasons for propofol abuse include insomnia, anxiety, and getting high or seeking euphoria.1   

Considering that medical professionals make up the majority of the individuals who abuse propofol, what signs could we look out for? Possible signs of propofol abuse include:  

  • Sedation or drowsiness 
  • Slurred speech 
  • Dilated pupils 
  • Poor concentration 
  • Unresponsiveness 
  • Slow reaction time 
  • Poor coordination and motor movement 
  • Confusion 
  • Dizziness 
  • Calmness or relaxation  

Some behavioral signs of propofol abuse in healthcare providers also include:   

  • Frequently late to calls or requests for services 
  • Preferring night shifts where there’s less supervision 
  • Falling asleep on the job  
  • Constant requests for overtime and extra shifts  
  • Volunteering to administer propofol to patients  
  • Taking frequent bathroom breaks or unexplained absences  
  • Extreme relationship or family stress 
  • An unusually friendly relationship with doctors that administer propofol 
  • Incomplete charting or repeated errors in paperwork 

While not all signs point to drug abuse, these collective behaviors can indicate substance abuse in a medical professional. If you notice any of these signs in yourself or a coworker, report it immediately. Our Chicago PHP rehab can also help the individual safely recover and get clean.  

Propofol Addiction Treatment 

Although propofol’s incrimination in music superstar Michael Jackson’s death resulted in an increased awareness of the drug’s dangers, many people out there are still struggling with propofol addiction. Banyan Treatment Centers offers addiction treatment for medical professionals for all types of substance use disorders, including prescription drug abuse.   

Our prescription drug addiction treatment program offers the stability and flexibility required to not only help clients stop using drugs but also help them develop a sober routine that’ll help them stay clean long-term. If this sounds like something you need, then don’t wait to reach out.  

Call Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-280-4763 for more information about our Illinois addiction treatment programs 



  1. NIH - Neurobiology of Propofol Addiction and Supportive Evidence: What Is the New Development? 


Related Reading:  

Sedative Abuse Symptoms 

What Are the Side Effects of Ambien? 

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Propofol Abuse in Healthcare Professionals
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