A Preventable Tragedy

27 Nov 2016

sara bird

by Dr Sara Bird

Coroner’s Inquest into the death of a RANZCOG trainee from an accidental overdose of intravenous drugs, including propofol, midazolam, and fentanyl, has highlighted the problem of diversion of drugs of addiction from hospitals. The trainee had become distressed and depressed following a number of unsuccessful attempts to pass the College exams. The Coroner found that the trainee’s boyfriend, an anaesthetic registrar, had obtained the drugs that she self-administered.

The Coroner’s anaesthetist expert stated:

  • propofol has increasingly become the agent of choice for abuse among doctors
  • most cases of propofol abuse involve its use for recreational purposes, stress relief and to alleviate insomnia
  • propofol abuse can often lead to death because of the rapid onset of unconsciousness and apnoea following injection
  • the narrow margin for safety makes propofol a lethal drug, with studies suggesting propofol abuse has the highest mortality rate
  • anaesthetists have a higher rate of propofol abuse than other doctors because the drug is widely used in their clinical practice.

A recent study which examined 404 drug-caused deaths in Australian healthcare professionals revealed that in 18% of cases, the drugs had been obtained through the workplace. Anaesthetic drugs were detected in 11% of cases.  A mental health diagnosis and/or previous self-harm was reported in almost half of the 404 healthcare professionals who had died.

Remember – you and your colleagues can obtain personal advice and support from the Doctors’ Health Advisory Service if you are suffering from drug dependence, stress and/or mental illness.

This blog contains general information only. We recommend you contact your medical defence organisation or insurer when you require specific advice in relation to medico-legal matters.



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