Friday, September 4, 2009

The Addict, The Enabler, and Us

by Diane Dimond

As Michael Jackson is finally laid to rest, you may ask: Who is to blame when a drug addict dies?

We now know the L.A. County Coroner considers Jackson's death a homicide caused by acute Propofol intoxication and the effects of five other powerful prescription drugs found in his system.

If the L.A. District Attorney chooses to charge Michael Jackson's personal doctor, Conrad Murray, it could very well be for manslaughter. Realistically speaking it was more like assisted suicide.

Michael Jackson had flooded his body with drugs for years. He went into drug rehab in 1993, he was often very obviously over-mediated during his 2005 child sex abuse trial, and during the run-up to his massive comeback concert tour this year we've now learned he was engaged in an orgy of drugs and self destructive behavior.

So, doesn't Michael Jackson bear some of the responsibility for his own death?

Before you answer let me tell you about a sworn affidavit, attached to a now unsealed search warrant, which outlines excruciating details about Michael Jackson's tragic final days. In the last hours of his life he was injected by his doctor or given oral doses of no fewer than four heavy-duty drugs. The last medication was Propofol, a drug used as surgical anesthesia. There are indications that when the doctor was not in the room Jackson may have sneaked even more medications in his continuing quest to end his insomnia. It's typical addict behavior.

At Jackson's bedside when he died there was a cornucopia of prescription pills, ordered up by several different doctors using fictitious patient names. It is a federal offense to prescribe pharmaceuticals under an alias. But there they were: Bottles of Valium, Tamsulosin, Lorazepam, Temazepam, Clonazepam, Trazodone and Tizanidine. Drugs used as hypnotic sedatives, to reduce pain, anxiety and muscle tension. Some treated sleeplessness. Others have a relatively high addictive potential and some are frequently sold and abused as street drugs. Finally, there was one prescription to treat an enlarged prostate, a nod to Jackson's over-50 status.

In other words, one glance at that nightstand, and a red flag should have gone up to any trained doctor that this was not a person for whom one should prescribe more drugs. But according to that sworn affidavit several doctors did – a cardiologist, a dermatologist and a general practitioner among them. Others known to have prescribed to Jackson in the recent past include at least two anesthesiologists, a plastic surgeon, a dentist and other general practitioners. Jackson had obviously been doctor shopping – but the doctors were celebrity shopping, no doubt.

Don't the doctors bear some responsibility for Jackson’s death? And what responsibility do the die-hard Michael Jackson fans bear for their blind worship? His drug addiction was no secret, yet the throngs of his followers continued to be dazzled by his stardom. Their continuing admiration sent a signal to both Jackson and his doctors that celebrity trumps all the normal rules. The status quo was working and there was no reason for the superstar to change his ways, no pressure from the entourage, because those who tried to warn Jackson to take care of his health were banished. As Jackson continued to demand more medications there were more people brought in to his long, slow suicidal process. Actually, it's a wonder he lived as long as he did.

Michael Jackson suffered from a lot of obvious maladies, many self inflicted. Not only was he abusing massive amounts of drugs, he suffered from anorexia and a body dysmorphic disorder that compelled him to repeatedly hire doctors to change his face. He had children who didn't know their mothers, he shut out much of his family lest they tell him how to live his life, and he seemed a reclusive, nomadic hermit who was never quite able to shake the taint of his child molestation trial acquittal.

Yet there were legions of fans who sent him the message that he was still the King of Pop! And there were countless doctors standing by to prescribe what he needed to get through his days.

Even in death there is blind adoration. A politician in New York is pushing to get a Brooklyn subway station – the venue for one of Jackson’s music videos – named after him. A U.S. Congresswoman pushed for an official House of Representatives commendation for the entertainer. There has been a movement to get a Michael Jackson postage stamp. What's wrong with this picture?

The truth is record numbers of Americans – tens of millions of them – are using and abusing prescription drugs. They are sick people in need of help, either for their underlying illness or for their addiction to these drugs. While I've always advocated personal responsibility, I've come to realize the responsibility must radiate outward too.

Everyone who's ever enabled a drug addict shares in the responsibility.


Leah said...

Indictment or not, my bet is that there is no conviction or prison time for this doctor.

Jan C said...

Great post, Diane. I think you are spot on. There is more than enough blame to go around, starting with Michael himself.

cheryl said...

Having lived with an addict, and temporarily being an enabler, I can somewhat understand the family and hangers on. Somewhat. If you truly love someone, you will do whatever it takes to help them beat their addiction.

An addict like MJ who could keep all naysayers at arm's length with no problem and surround himself with yes men is different.

I hope and pray that there are no streets named after him. I hope there are no postage stamps issued with his image. (Just as I hoped no Elvis stamps were issued). I hope no streets are named after him, and I wish that people would stop venerating celebrities.

Pipe dreams, I know. Sigh.

A Voice of Sanity said...

If the L.A. District Attorney chooses to charge Michael Jackson's personal doctor, Conrad Murray, it could very well be for manslaughter. Realistically speaking it was more like assisted suicide.

There is some evidence that the doctor was trying to wean Jackson off drugs, not trying to addict him further. That is a doctor's job, and not an easy one.

Jurorthirteen said...

I've followed MJ's life since he was a child.

He may be one of the greatest all time entertainers.

What you captured in your article was how I've felt for a very long time.

I do think the Doctor was wrong for not stoppin the drugs... and I question the drugs in use.

Micheal knew, though. He's a great part of his own demise... IMO