Propofol in the News

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The trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor is burning up the airwaves, and a relatively unknown drug of abuse is in the news. Propofol, a short-acting hypnotic has been determined to be the cause of death. It appears the defense is alleging Michael Jackson was addicted to the drug.

Notably, the drug isn’t scheduled by the DEA as addictive. It is a prescription item, but it doesn’t fall into the category of a drug of abuse. The reason? While it does cause some euphoria (good feelings) it is very dangerous to self administer – the risk of death from respiratory failure is too great.

That’s not to say there haven’t been those who have tried, and those who have died. A 2007 report in the Journal of Fundamental and Clinical Pharmacology mentions the abuse potential (citing use among medical professionals who have access) and the DEA is considering reclassifying the drug.

The package insert does mention the risks of using propofol in a non-clinical setting and the interactions with benzodiazepines. Mr. Jackson was also taking benzodiazepines as a sleep aid.

Whether Michael Jackson was addicted in the traditional sense is in dispute. Dr. Conrad Murray is charged with negligent homicide in the case and over the course of a couple of months, purchased more than four gallons of the drug, a drug that comes in 100 ml bottles. The implication is that Dr. Murray was overusing it. This has not been proven in court yet and the case is ongoing.

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