Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Did Prescription Drugs Kill Michael Jackson?

The untimely death of Michael Jackson has put the spotlight on the issue of prescription drug abuse. On the night that Jackson died, Brian Oxman, the family spokesman and attorney, told CNN that the people surrounding Jackson were "enabling him" and that prescription drugs were most likely the cause of his death.

New age guru and medical doctor Deepak Chopra, a longtime Jackson friend, echoed Oxman a day later on CNN: "I think drugs killed him." Chopra said he has been concerned since 2005 that Jackson was abusing prescription drugs. Chopra said Jackson asked him for painkillers following his trial on sex abuse allegations in 2005. When Chopra refused, Jackson reportedly found other doctors willing to make house calls at Jackson's various residences in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara County, Miami and New York.

Chopra and Oxman brought up the issue of prescription drug use in the hours after Jackson's death, and they're probably right, although the official cause of death is not expected for several weeks. Originally the cause of death was said to be cardiac arrest, and the news reports coming out originally didn't give much more information than that.

The suddenness of Jackson's death caught the media by surprise, but interviews with people who knew Jackson started to suggest something other than a common heart attack. The nanny of Jackson's kids repeatedly contacted Chopra with concerns about his drug use over the last four years. Many of his friends and acquaintances knew of his ongoing problem with prescription drugs, but chose to do nothing about it.

The media circus that followed Jackson's death caught up with the drug rumors, and the focus of the story became Jackson's live-in cardiologist, Dr. Conrad Murray. Murray was with Jackson at the time of his death and tried to resuscitate him. Reports have surfaced that Jackson was given a shot of Demerol just hours before his death, and he was hooked on prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin. Dr. Murray's attorney has told the Associated Press that his client did not prescribe these or any other drugs to Jackson.

Questions remain as to how a cardiologist ended up living with Jackson, who reportedly hired the doctor to accompany him on his comeback tour, which was to start in a couple of weeks in London, England. The police have questioned Murray, but he has remained silent and is only speaking through his attorney, who so far hasn't released any information other than that his client is innocent of any wrongdoing.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, a friend of the family, on Saturday told ABC's "Good Morning America" that he had spent Friday counseling the family. "They are suspicious of this doctor and they have real reason to be because any other doctor would say, 'Here's what happened in the last hour of his life and I was there. I gave him some medicine'," Rev. Jackson said. "He owes it to the family and to the public."

The abuse of prescription drugs is not limited to the rich and famous. It has taken the shock of Michael Jackson's tragic death to highlight a problem that has been growing over the last few years. The abuse of prescription drugs, including painkillers and stimulants, now ranks second, only behind marijuana, as the nation's most prevalent illegal drug problem, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Among teens and young adults, the use of prescription drugs to get high is becoming an increasingly troublesome and dangerous problem.

Sean Clarkin, director of strategy for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, says young people are drawn to prescription drugs because "there is a relatively low perception of risk. Some of those attitudes that kids have are shared by their parents," Clarkin says. "There is a cultural climate, the 'pill for any ill' mentality is contributing to this."

As for Jackson, no solid evidence has yet emerged that he was abusing prescription drugs, but if you look at the case realistically, you can pretty much rule everything else out. A medical check-up in April for the purpose of clearing Jackson's insurance company to cover his comeback tour, showed no evidence of cardiac problems. He was working out with bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, who said Jackson appeared to be in excellent health. Jackson performed a full dress rehearsal at the Staples Center the night before his death, without needing any breaks or showing any signs of illness.

As a spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner's office said that more tests would be required to determine if prescription drugs contributed to his death, Jackson's family and fans have reached the conclusion that his death could have been prevented.

Brian Oxman finished his CNN interview just hours after Jackson's death by saying: "If you think that the case of Anna Nicole Smith was an abuse, it is nothing in comparison to what we have seen taking place in Michael Jackson's life. This is something which I feared and it is something which I warned about. I don't know the cause of all this, so I can't tell you what the ultimate result of it's going to be, but I can tell you for sure, when you warn people that this is what's going to happen and then it happens, where there is smoke, there is fire."

All of the drugs taken by Jackson were reportedly prescribed by licenced physicians. These are the "enablers" Oxman referred to, in addition to Jackson's friends and family members who knew about his addiction and did nothing.

Oxman, an attorney, had warned about Jackson's problem with prescription drugs. But what about Deepak Chopra, a medical doctor? He knew about the problem, and although he refused to prescribe any medicine, did he have an ethical obligation to intervene. In his interview with CNN, Chopra repeatedly called Jackson his "brother," but who would let their brother go down the lonely path travelled by Michael Jackson. As a doctor, there must have been more Chopra could do.

Experts in the area of drug prevention say that the Jackson case should be a good way to bring up the topic of prescription drug abuse to young people. The case should give parents a moment to reexamine the potential effects of abusing painkillers. "This is a teachable moment for parents," says Clarkin, "to communicate with their kids about abusing this stuff."

If Michael Jackson's death has brought the issue of prescription drug abuse to the forefront of the public consciousness, than something good has come out of the tragedy.

10 comments:

  1. Prescription drug abuse is a serious issue. This is an opportunity to use all the Jackson publicity for some good.

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  2. “Marijuana is SAFER, So why are we driving people to drink?”

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    http://www.saferchoice.org/

    http://wgcu.org/programs/sound_off_with_sasha/archive/2009/06/26/the-war-on-drugs.aspx

    Nationally recognized marijuana-policy experts Steve Fox, Paul Armentano, and Mason Tvert compare and contrast the relative harms and legal status of the two most popular recreational substances in the world--marijuana and alcohol. Through an objective examination of the two drugs and the laws and social practices that steer people toward alcohol, the authors pose a simple yet rarely considered question:
    Why do we punish adults who make the rational, safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Maybe some good will come out of this. Prescription drug abuse is a major problem, and it's only getting worse. This sheds light on the problem and that's good.

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  4. This is a sad, sad state of affairs. Michael Jackson's death could have been prevented. It's now obvious. All these people could have helped him, but they were to star-struck to say anything to the superstar. Doctors, friends, family etc. Brian Oxman tried to warn them, but nobody listened. He was the family spokesman and attorney, but what about Deepak Chopra. As you say in your article, he's a medical doctor. That's a good question. Couldn't he have intervened? Not only is he a doctor, but he was a close friend. His "brother" died, and Chopra didn't do anything to stop him. I'm very glad that some good may come out of this. Awareness of the problem of prescription drug abuse like Oxycontin will undoubtedly save lives. Michael Jackson's death has definately brought the issue of prescription drug abuse to the forefront. If this helps keeps youngsters away from prescription drugs, his death will not be in vain.

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  5. Somehow, Michael Jackson never made the impression of someone who would have listened to other people's advice. People who are so rich and famous are often incredibly spoilt. If he wanted to abuse prescription drugs (or sleep with children), nobody, in my opinion, could have stopped him.

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  6. As someone who takes prescription painkillers for chronic bone pain, my doctor, who is a pain management specialist is very conscientious about what I take and how much. I have random urine tests and am only given enough for 1 month at a time. These things scare me so I never take more that what is prescribed. If the pain starts getting worse as my body gains tolerance against the medicine, I call her and she has me come in to discuss what to do next, whether to increase the dose or try something new. If you aren't careful with these things you can become addicted. I didn't know until I started seeing this doctor that there is a difference between addiction and body dependence. Addition is when you have to have it, you can't live without it, you have to have more and more and more, it'a both a physical and mental dependence. Physical dependence is where your body gets used to a certain dosage and will go into withdrawal if the med is stopped abruptly. (For me anyway)

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  7. Initially, the news of Michael Jackson's death was a shock. However, in retrospect, hearing all the stories of prescription drug abuse, it was not surprising. This is a serious problem, especially for the rich and famous, many of whom are surrounded by enablers and sycophants. That certainly appears to have been the case with Michael.

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  8. What makes me sick about all these "enablers" is that they rode along on Michael's coat tails, got to go here and there on Michael's dime...and in the end, all they are really seeking is fame for themselves. These people were nothing of note until now...all because of Michael's untimely death. Would we know about this doctor or any of those other people if he were still alive? Maybe a sentence about them...in passing....

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  9. Many things came out until now about killing thing of MJ.

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