After the news hit about the death of Michael Jackson and all the speculation about his possible prescription drug use, the NIDA press office phones rang off the hook. Why? News reporters wanted information on prescription drug misuse and abuse.
We talked to the NIDA Communications Director, Carol Krause (pictured right), about how they handle calls like that.
Sara Bellum Blog (SBB): How many calls does NIDA get when news like this hits?
Carol: Well it depends on the celebrity and how definite the news is. With Anna Nicole Smith, speculation was immediate that drug abuse was involved, so we got a lot of calls from the press right away. With Heath Ledger, people weren’t so sure, and the inquiries came gradually, over a period of weeks.
SBB: And Michael Jackson?
Carol: Within a few hours of his death, the NIDA press office got maybe a dozen calls from major news reporters wanting information on prescription drug abuse. They were doing research in case toxicology reports came back saying that medication misuse contributed to the pop icon’s death.
SBB: And what do you tell them?
Carol: We treat this like any other inquiry. We give them facts. The fact is that between the years of 1999 and 2005, the number of accidental deaths from drug overdoses in this country more than doubled.
SBB: Really? Why?
Carol: The biggest problem is the increased misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers—opioid narcotics like Vicodin and OxyContin.
SBB: Is this a problem with teenagers?
Carol: Absolutely. For the past 5 years, 1 in 10 high school seniors have reported they use Vicodin without a prescription—1 in 20 have used OxyContin.
SBB: Why isn’t the press reporting this?
Carol: Oh they are. The question is—are teens listening?
SBB: I’d like to think teens are smart enough to know that using medications without a prescription can be dangerous. What is the take away lesson from Michael Jackson’s death?
Carol: That we don’t need a tragedy like this to learn how to make smart decisions about your health. The information you need is right here on the NIDA website.
Since the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, “propofol” has been mentioned often in the news. The substance was found to be the cause of his death and was the center of the highly publicized trial of his doctor.
So, it’s no surprise there is a lot of curiosity about propofol. NIDA received questions about it during last year’s Drug Facts Chat Day.
During Chat Day, Cam from California asked about the basics—
Is propofol a drug?
Yes. Propofol is a common type of anesthetic—a drug that doctors use to “put people to sleep” for surgery. It is given to patients through an “intravenous drip,” (called an “IV” for short) that goes through a special needle into a patient’s vein, so the medicine goes directly into the bloodstream.
Doctors who give patients propofol are generally known as “anesthesiologists” and have special training. These experts set up the IV, make sure the patient is “sleeping” comfortably, and then carefully monitor vital signs (like heart rate, breathing, etc.) while the patient has surgery.
Doctors like using propofol because it leaves the body very quickly, which allows the patient to wake up after surgery more rapidly, without bad side effects. Propofol can be a useful drug when it’s given by people who are properly trained. But like many prescription drugs, it can be very harmful if used inappropriately. Propofol should be given only in a hospital setting where the patient can be closely monitored.
A Lost Legend
Michael Jackson died of acute propofol intoxication. Additional drugs found in Michael’s system were the depressants midazolam and diazepam, the painkiller Lidocaine, and the stimulant ephedrine. His doctor, Conrad Murray, was convicted of causing the singer’s death by giving Michael the propofol that caused him to stop breathing. By helping Michael abuse drugs—even if it was to “help him sleep”—he contributed to the loss of a legend. Michael’s untimely death was mourned by millions of people.