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What Drug Killed Michael Jackson?

25th June 2009 was a regular day like any other until the world received shocking news on the untimely death of ‘The King of Pop’ Michael Jackson as many would refer to him. His death was declared a homicide. His physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, was later charged and convicted in a court of law for administering the drugs that killed the pop star. An autopsy revealed that an acute propofol intoxication was the primary cause of his death.

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On the previous day, the pop star was rehearsing for his comeback tour, and with the piled-up pressure, he complained about his inability to sleep. Dr. Conrad Murray gave him a series of drugs that would help him relax, and later on, the pop star would be found unconscious. Michael Jackson was then rushed to the hospital, and he was found in a cardiac arrest, and he was not breathing.

Efforts to resuscitate him for more than an hour were futile. Dr. Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2011 and thereby sentenced to a jail term of four years but only served two years as he was released on parole. Other drugs were also detected upon the completion of Michael’s autopsy, such as diazepam, lidocaine, and ephedrine.

Prosecutors accused Murray of giving the pop star Propofol in large dosage to aid in sleeping and left him unattended. The physician’s defense team said that he gave himself a powerful anesthetic overdose. The Los Angeles County coroner concluded that the pop star died from acute propofol intoxication.

What is Propofol?

It is a short-acting drug that puts an individual asleep during general anesthesia for surgery and other medical purposes by slowing down one’s nervous system and activeness. Sometimes referred to as ‘milk of anesthesia,’ propofol is insoluble in water, and it consists of an oily, white solution that must be refrigerated before it is used.

Soybean oil, glycerol, and fats purified from egg yolks are constituents of the solution. Propofol is often regarded as safe for Individuals who are allergic to eggs since they are allergic to the proteins in eggs rather than the fat. Regardless, some people may have allergic reactions.

 Most people were not familiar with propofol until the popstar’s case since anesthesiologists mainly used it. Propofol results in loss of consciousness and, therefore, it is often used as an induction agent. It is also administered in lower doses for conscious sedation of Individuals getting surgical outpatient procedures.

Propofol Use as a Sodium Thiopental replacement

Propofol was introduced as a replacement induction agent for sodium thiopental, a traditional barbiturate which is no longer in the market. Sodium thiopental is often used to execute individuals with fatal injections. Therefore, some countries and groups that resist the death sentence have piled-up pressure on suppliers using legal means, among other methods.

Anesthesiologists use large proportions of propofol ranging between 100-200 ml of propofol for general anesthesia, followed by smaller amounts continuously depending on an Individual’s body weight in micrograms every minute. While the drug is infused into an Individual’s vein, pain is incurred, and a local anesthetic is injected first before propofol, such as lidocaine, to ease the pain.

Since propofol reduces an Individual’s blood pressure and also restrains breathing, patients need to be continually monitored thus should not be left unattended.

Propofol for Mild Sedation 

Propofol is used at times for outpatient surgical procedures as it puts Individuals in a tired, subconscious state. It neither causes nausea nor vomiting, and its duration of action lasts between five to ten minutes and typically wears off fast. Slight loss of memory may also be incurred by a patient afterward.

Propofol Abuse

Like any other drug, propofol can be prone to abuse by Individuals, causing lethal overdoses in some instances. Research studies conducted on volunteers by the University of Utah, Division of Emergency Medicine doctors, Courtney Wilson, Peter Canning, and E. Martin Cavarati showed that propofol gave anesthetic patients pleasant dreams.

It also gives pleasurable effects, and the sensational feeling is explained as a ‘high’ or ‘drunk’ state. In addition to that, they also noted that Individuals could develop propofol tolerance hence may require more of the drug to attain a high feeling. Its illegal use is more natural to conceal because of the short-acting factor that makes it wear off fast.

There were 45 recorded cases of propofol abuse, in which 40 of them involved medical practitioners, and 18 of them led to death between 1992-2009 from a medical literature search. A survey from Academic Anesthesiology Training Programs indicated that 18% of the samples of propofol abuse had happened in 10 years that is 1995-2005.

Propofol use should be regulated since it’s a controlled substance like any other potent anesthetic drug.

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In an interview with Australia’s 60 minutes in 2013, Michael Jackson’s personal physician Conrad Murray said that he disagreed with Michael on using such a strong sedative. He also said that Michael was not a guy you could tell stop it.

In his 2016 book, ‘This is It, The Secret Lives of Dr. Conrad Murray and Michael Jackson,’ he insisted that he was not responsible for the pop star’s death. As much as strict regulation would have maybe saved the pop star’s life, he would have the means to break the rules aided by facilitators like his personal physician Murray. Nevertheless, the public would never know.