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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

What’s the Big Deal with Samsung Heir Lee Jae Yong’s Drug Conviction for Propofol?

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On October 26, 2021, Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong was convicted and fined 70 million won on drug charges for illegally using the sedative propofol. It’s the same powerful anesthetic that Michael Jackson overdosed and died from in 2009. Lee pleaded guilty to the charges and admitted he used the sedative at a skin clinic under doctor’s guidance due to psychological stress over his father’s coma and ongoing legal issues.

Korean chaebol leaders are often too important to jail for the sake of the nation’s GDP and, in cases like this year, vaccine production. Should Korea rethink its one-man-at-the-top system of governance? Is it too much for one man to handle? Haven’t we already moved on from empire to democracy? Yet, why do we still cling to it so desperately?

It’s often said that those drawn to the knock out effects of propofol abuse are those who can’t shut down their thoughts – especially if it prevents them from sleep. Not that it excuses his behavior, but given what this man went through from 2014 to 2020, it’s no wonder he couldn’t stop his mind from non-stop mental calculus. From his dad’s coma to going to jail over presidential impeachment-level bribery to running a company responsible for 25% of Korea’s GDP, his brain probably overheated.

From Anesthesiology News, May 2007, Vol 33:05:

Many have admitted to a history of psychological or physical trauma, such as rape or childhood sexual abuse-which may help explain the drug’s appeal, Dr. Earley said. “What it’s best at is why it’s used in anesthesia-making people unconscious. It’s somewhat dissociative, and can lead to an out-of-body sensation.”

“Propofol is a drug that in a sense doesn’t get you high,” said Omar S. Manejwala, MD, associate medical director at the William J. Farley Center at Williamsburg Place, an addiction treatment clinic in Virginia that focuses on physicians. “It blocks out the world.”

In his experience, Dr. Manejwala said, nearly every propofol addict started injecting to overcome persistent insomnia. That aspect of the medication fits neatly with the link both Drs. Manejwala and Earley have observed between propofol abuse and a history of trauma. “One of the hallmark symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] is hyperarousal. Folks with PTSD want to block that out,” Dr. Manejwala said.

What’s puzzling, experts said, is the strength of the connection. “I don’t know of any other drug where the perceived incidence of trauma, particularly of sexual trauma [in abusers], is so high,” Dr. Manejwala said. “It’s really quite remarkable.”

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