War on Prescription Drug Abuse: Michael Jackson’s Doctor Found Guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011
This post was written by Cheryl Miller

We recently reported that more than 40 people die every day from overdoses involving narcotic pain relievers, a number that has more than tripled in the past decade, according to the CDC.

“Overdoses involving prescription painkillers are at epidemic levels and now kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined,” said CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. in an agency press release.

Ironically, news of Michael Jackson’s former physician, Conrad Murray, being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s 2009 death, broke the same week as this news story.

Testimony indicated that propofol, in conjunction with other drugs in the singer’s system, had played the key role in Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009; the Los Angeles County coroner’s office ruled that his death was caused by “acute propofol intoxication.”

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA,) propofol, a short acting intravenous anesthetic, is a prescription drug for use in human and veterinary medicine. It is to be used in hospital settings by trained anesthetists for the induction, maintenance of general anesthesia, and sedation of ventilated adults receiving intensive care, for up to 72 hours. In fact, propofol has been used in palliative care to sedate terminally ill patients suffering from severe agitation.

Prosecutors at Jackson’s trial said that Murray was guilty of criminal negligence by administering the propofol, and by not having the proper monitoring equipment, among other things. Defense attorneys argued that Jackson gave himself the fatal dose when Murray left the room.

Chances are Murray’s role in Jackson’s death will be debated for quite some time. But regardless, the ruling was a statement to physicians to stop fueling their patients’ reliance on killer prescription drugs, said Steve Cooley, the Los Angeles County district attorney, after the verdict was announced.

At the very least, the ruling re-cast light on this growing problem in the country. As cited by the CDC:

In 2010, 1 in every 20 people in the United States age 12 and older—a total of 12 million people—reported using prescription painkillers non-medically, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Based on the data from the Drug Enforcement Administration, sales of these drugs to pharmacies and health care providers have increased by more than 300 percent since 1999.

Non-medical use of prescription painkillers costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct health care costs.

Steps have been taken to address this problem. In April, the administration released an action plan designed to counter the prescription drug abuse epidemic. Titled “Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis,” the plan includes the following:

  • Support for the expansion of state–based prescription drug monitoring programs,
  • More convenient and environmentally responsible disposal methods to remove unused medications from the home,
  • Education for patients and healthcare providers,
  • Support for law enforcement efforts that reduce the prevalence of “pill mills” and doctor shopping.
  • Already, 48 states have implemented state–based monitoring programs designed to reduce “doctor shopping” while protecting patient privacy, and the Department of Justice has conducted a series of takedowns of rogue pain clinics operating as “pill mills.”

    But until the problem is completely eliminated, hopefully this trial and its verdict will put a face on the more than 40 people who are dying everyday from prescription drug overdoses; 40 plus people that didn’t make the news because they didn’t have the fame or notoriety of Michael Jackson.

    Just the unfortunate commonality of searching for a drug to mute their pain, and then being unable to live without it.

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