Michael Jackson’s death has made the drug propofol—a powerful anesthesia usually only used in hospital settings—a household name, but it has also raised awareness of the growing problem of propofol abuse among doctors and nurses. TheBostonChannel.com reports that days before Michael Jackson’s death—which was caused by a lethal amount of propofol—the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists warned hospitals to restrict access to the drug. “Those providers who have issues with insomnia, many times they think that by giving themselves a little bit of propofol, it puts them into a deep enough sleep, and they wake up refreshed,” said Steve Alves, the vice president of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, and an associate clinical professor with Northeastern University. But even providers who use it on a daily basis are unclear how potent it can be. A recent study found that 30 percent of physicians who abused propofol actually died. Last year, Dr. Brent Cambron was found dead in a storage closet at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, surrounded by a half-filled vial of propofol and other drugs. “It’s a very stressful environment that we work in and unfortunately these are some of the avenues that people take,” said Alves. Dr. Michael Fitzsimons, an anesthesiologist with Massachusetts General Hospital, says the hospital is well aware of that fact that between 1 and 2 percent of anesthesia providers are abusing a wide variety of potent drugs, including propofol. It’s believed to be the same percentage among all health care providers.”It’s easy access. We are one of the few physicians who obtain the drugs ourselves,” he said. “We’ve instituted random drug testing of attending physicians, nurse anesthetists, residents, and fellows in 2003 in an attempt to decrease the incidence within our department. Our greatest fear is the death of an individual. And that is what we are trying to prevent,” Fitzsimons said.
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