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Deaths from recreational use of propofol in Korea

Eunyoung Han, Sujin Jung, Seungkyung Baeck, Sangki Lee, Heesun Chung
Forensic Science International 2013 December 10, 233 (1): 333-7
Propofol, a short-acting and sedative-hypnotic agent, induces and maintains anesthesia. Since it is known to produce mild euphoria and hallucinations, the recreational use of propofol has been a big issue in Korea. Furthermore, many deaths have occurred due to its abuse and misuse. In order to study the prevalence of abuse and deaths due to propofol, all autopsy cases conducted between 2005 and 2010 at the NFS (National Forensic Service, Korea) were monitored by checking its concentrations in the blood. Propofol was detected in 131 cases (0.88%) out of 14,673 autopsied cases within 6 years. Propofol alone was detected in 49 of 131 fatal cases, while the combination of drugs was detected with propofol in the remaining 82 cases. The concentrations of propofol from autopsied cases ranged from 0.05 to 8.83 mg/L (mean 1.66; median 0.9) and from 0.08 to 8.65 mg/L (mean 1.71; median 1.05) in the heart (n=31) and the femoral blood (n=32), respectively. The investigation of the ratio of heart to femoral blood and the difference between the concentrations in heart and femoral blood (n=15) from the same body revealed the ratio from 0.45 to 3.66 (mean 1.53; median 1.40). The autopsy resulted in accidental death after self-administration in 16 autopsied cases among 131 autopsied cases. In 16 cases, their ages ranged from 17 to 56 and 75% of them were in their 20's and 30's and 75% were female. Half of them were medical personnel including 19% of doctors and 38% of nurses. The combination of drugs was detected in 6 cases. Fluoxetine was detected in three and vecuronium was detected in two along with propofol. The cause of death in 14 cases was drug intoxication, while that in 2 cases was hanging. Due to its prevalence, Korea has become the first country that regulates propofol as a psychotropic substance.


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