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Discovery of anesthetic at Michael Jackson's home raises stakes in death probe

July 3, 2009 | 11:41 am

The discovery of a powerful sedative at the home where Michael Jackson died last week raises the stakes in the investigation of the entertainer's death.

The Times reported Thursday that a law enforcement source said that propofol was among the drugs recovered from the Holmby Hills mansion.

Propofol, marketed under the brand name Diprivan, is a potent anesthetic intended for use in surgical and clinical settings. Easily recognizable because of its milky-white consistency (it is the only anesthetic in that form), it is known informally in medical circles as “milk of anesthesia” or “milk of amnesia.”

Propofol is one of the most widely used IV drugs for general anesthesia, and several doctors interviewed by The Times said it is extremely effective; an injection of the drug can induce hypnosis within 40 seconds. (Unless propofol is administered by pump, a patient can be awake and aware again, with no lasting side effects, in as few as three minutes after an injection.)

Dr. Zeev Kain, chairman of UC Irvine’s anesthesiology department, said that in the last few years the drug has made its way out of the operating room -- where it has long been used to help sedate patients in preparation for operations -- to other parts of the hospital. He said it’s now used in colonoscopies, radiological procedures, the emergency room and the intensive care unit. He said the drug, which is not a controlled substance and is often easy to find in hospitals, is used because it is fast- and short-acting.

"You give it, and two minutes later, it’s over."

But the doctors interviewed also warned that the drug must be used by a physician trained not only in its dosage, but also the care of patients receiving the drug.

It remains unclear whether prescription drugs played any role in Jackson's death. The coroner's office is awaiting toxicology results. But investigators said they removed prescription drugs as well as other "medical evidence" from the singer's rented Holmby Hills home. And both the Drug Enforcement Administration and the California attorney general's office are aiding the Los Angeles Police Department in the investigation.

State law enforcement officials are using a computer database to mine for information on prescription drugs to be passed on to investigators with the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division. The database contains the name of every doctor that has prescribed controlled medicine, the person for whom the drug was prescribed, the quantity and the date.

--Andrew Blankstein, Kimi Yoshino and Cara Mia DiMassa