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Doctors familiar with death by propofol

August 4, 2009 |  9:10 am

Jackson The inquiry into singer Michael Jackson's death centers on his use of the anesthetic propofol to help him sleep. Three months before Jackson's death, a group of anesthesiologists in Florida warned their colleagues about the inappropriate and dangerous use of the drug.

In their report -- titled "Death From Propofol: Accident, Suicide or Murder?" -- the University of Florida doctors detailed the 2005 death of a 24-year-old woman from propofol toxicity. The woman had no history of drug abuse. But an acquaintance, a registered nurse, did have access to the drug. The suspect fled the country, but investigators found him in Senegal and he was returned to the country, tried and convicted of first-degree murder.

The report was published in the April edition of Anesthesia & Analgesia, a journal for anesthesiologists.

"Propofol is not intrinsically more dangerous than other intravenous sedatives," Dr. Steven L. Shafer, the editor of the journal, said in a news release. "We have known since the days of Paracelsus that it is the dose that renders a drug toxic. Propofol is dispensed in doses intended to produce general anesthesia. Administration of an anesthetic dose of any hypnotic by an untrained individual, or in a setting in which general anesthesia cannot be properly managed, is a recipe for disaster."

The authors of the report cautioned that, since the early 1990s, occasional reports of abuse, accidental overdose and suicide linked to propofol have surfaced. In 2007, a forensic sciences journal reported the death of a female anesthesiologist in Greece who abused the drug. They noted that the toxic effects of the drug differ in non-intubated patients compared to intubated patients who are on an operating table. A report in 2006 described the death in Germany of a drug abuser who bought the intravenous medical supplies to self-administer propofol on Ebay.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: A granite headstone at a Jackson memorial site at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit. Credit: Carlos Osorio  /  Associated Press.

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