What medications may have led to Michael Jackson’s death?
It has been widely reported that Michael Jackson used the painkiller Demerol (generic name meperidine) for back trouble. While no one is insinuating that Jackson was an addict, reports of his use of Demerol could be a clue to his cardiac arrest. Long term use of Demerol can cause all sorts of nasty side effects, including the buildup of a chemical called normeperidine — a toxic metabolite of meperidine that normally causes no harm in short term use. Over time, however, the buildup of normeperidine is known to cause cardiac problems.
However, news is currently breaking about Jackson’s potential use of a drug called Diprivan for problems with insomnia. Diprivan is not a recreational drug, unless “recreation” to you means sleeping for a few hours. According to Jackson’s nurse and nutritional consultant for his upcoming concert series in London (her name is Cherilyn Lee) Jackson repeatedly asked her to administer Diprivan (generic name propofol) so he could get rest. Ms. Lee’s comments appeared on CNN and in an AP report. According to Ms. Lee, while she was in Florida on June 21, she got an alarming call from Jackson’s staff. Apparently, Jackson had been given some sort of “central nervous system” drug that made his body hot and cold alongside a few other symptoms. Lee extrapolated from this side effect that Jackson had been given Diprivan, though she says she never assisted him in getting the drug.
Ms. Lee says firmly that Jackson “did not look like he was on drugs”, but seemed more like a person looking for relief. The jury is still out on what exactly led to Michael Jackson’s cardiac arrest, but clues pour in on a daily basis.
Diprivan, the drug Cherilyn Lee says Jackson was “adamant about getting”, is the trade name for a chemical called propofol. Propofol is a product made by pharmacy giant AstraZeneca. According to the AstraZeneca website, estimated US annual sales of Diprivan are between 300 and 400 million dollars. Medical information about propofol indicates that the drug, used as anesthesia or as a deep sedative, is usually dispensed as an emulsion with egg products that gives the chemical a white, milky appearance. It is a very common intravenous anesthetic drug used mainly for outpatient surgical procedures. Why outpatient surgery? Apparently, propofol begins to act on the nervous system quickly, usually within less than a minute, and that patients can come out of the anesthesia quickly, ideal for a setting where the patient goes home after surgery.
While propofol is classified as a sedative, some patients report a kind of euphoria imparted by the drug. Also, while it is considered a very safe intravenous anesthetic, it doesn’t mix well with certain opiate painkillers, such as morphine or demerol, both substances Jackson was allegedly taking. However, propofol’s interaction with opiates is about as minor as an anesthetic can get — so it is unlikely that a reaction between painkillers and propofol occured.
The drug’s manufacturer also includes information with the drug about something called “propofol related infusion syndrome”. In this very rare but possible reaction, the body’s temperature goes up (known as hyperthermia) but not usually to a fatal level. Rarely, propofol related infusion syndrome can lead to catastrophic muscle breakdown in a process known as rhabdomyolysis. This is a truly rare side effect that is also indicated in the warnings for certain cholesterol lowering drugs.
But the final blow to Jackson’s poor heart may have indeed been propofol. If a patient is predisposed to cardiac isues, either genetically or organically, they can experience rhythmic disturbances and a high heart rate after the infusion of propofol.
Whatever the circumstance that led to his heart trouble, the public will find out soon. According to the Daily Mail, police are tracing the drugs in Michael Jackson’s home to determine their source. Police have admitted that some of the drugs in Jackson’s home were “prescription drugs”, but we don’t know how many of them, if any, weren’t actually prescribed to Jackson. Remember the case of Anna Nicole Smith? So many prescriptions were found in her hotel room it was difficult for journalists to keep up, and not a one of them turned out to be legally prescribed.
The problem in the Jackson case appears to be of a similar nature. There were anywhere from 15 to 20 ‘bodyguards’ living with Jackson at any time, and according to anonymous sources, the prescription drugs found by the police were written to several different names, mostly those of his bodyguards and close friends. What does this potentially mean for Jackson? It would appear, if these facts are true, that the 50 year old King of Pop was running a supply chain for drugs, further indicating a dependence on drugs that he could not get from a doctor.
Rumors have said that the star spent as much as $15,000 a month on prescription drugs, and these rumors name just about every drug under the sun, from sedatives like Valium and Xanax to opiate painkillers like Vicodin and Demerol. We may never know the truth about this last tidbit — but if Jackson was getting drugs from bodyguards and others close to him, it does appear he was dealing with an addiction.
If it turns out that Jackson got his drugs in someone else’s name, those bodyguards and other house guests would be in some serious legal trouble. There has been no official cause of death at this point, though the fact that the doctors involved in his autopsy were waiting for “toxicology” information can lead us to one assumption — drug overdose.
Michael’s much reviled father Joe Jackson, who is 80 years old, stirred up trouble related to the death of his son in an almost violent outburst broadcast nationwide. Jackson said he has “a lot of concerns” over Michael’s death. “Michael was dead before he left the house,” Joe Jackson said. ‘I suspect foul play somewhere. He was waving to everybody and telling them he loves them, and all the fans at the gate. A few minutes after Michael was out there, he was dead.’
While the public and some members of the media turned their lens toward the physician who made the 911 call, Dr. Conrad Murray (the doctor) denies all charges that he “did anything wrong.” Dr. Murray denied giving Jackson any of the drugs that are being bandied about as “potential killers” — going so far as to insist that he never prescribed or gave Jackson either strong painkiller, Demerol or Oxycontin.
Until furter toxicology test results come in, we won’t know which specific drugs, if any, led to his cardiac arrest. We know that propofol was found in the home Jackson was renting, as well as lidocaine which is usually given along with propofol to ease the sting that the milky white anesthetic can cause.