An Analysis of Substandard Propofol Detected in Use in Zambian Anesthesia

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BACKGROUND:In early 2015, clinicians throughout Zambia noted a range of unpredictable adverse events after the administration of propofol, including urticaria, bronchospasm, profound hypotension, and most predictably an inadequate depth of anesthesia. Suspecting that the propofol itself may have been substandard, samples were procured and sent for testing.METHODS:Three vials from 2 different batches were analyzed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry methods at the John L. Holmes Mass Spectrometry Facility.RESULTS:Laboratory gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis determined that, although all vials contained propofol, its concentration differed between samples and in all cases was well below the stated quantity. Two vials from 1 batch contained only 44% ± 11% and 54% ± 12% of the stated quantity, whereas the third vial from a second batch contained only 57% ± 9%. The analysis found that there were no hexane-soluble impurities in the samples.CONCLUSIONS:None of the analyzed vials contained the stated amount of propofol; however, our analysis did not detect additional contaminants that would explain the adverse events reported by clinicians. Our results confirm the presence of substandard propofol in Zambia; however, anecdotal accounts of substandard anesthetic medicines in other countries abound and warrant further investigation to provide estimates of the prevalence and scope of this global problem.

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