What Is Propofol?

How Could It Have Killed Michael Jackson?

The King of Pop’s doctor, Conrad Murray, is on trial for involuntary manslaughter, but could propofol alone have caused MJ’s death? Harvard anesthesiologist Beverly Philip explains what gives this drug such lethal potential

Katherine Harmon 

Michael Jackson at Cannes What killed the king?: As testimony continues in the case against Michael Jackson’s physician Conrad Murray, an anesthesiologist explains the dangers of the drug implicated in his death at age 50. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Georges Biard

In the first week of the trial of Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson‘s physician, Los Angeles jurors heard audio recordings of the late pop star’s slurred speech, in addition to the litany of prescription drugs he had taken in the hours and weeks prior to his June 25, 2009, death.
It will be up to them to decide if they agree with the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, which labeled Jackson’s death a homicide.
According to the 2009 autopsy report (pdf), "the cause of death is acute propofol intoxication," which caused the singer to stop breathing. In addition to propofol (a hypnotic drug used for general anesthesia, sedation and in veterinary medicine) the examiner also found traces of lorazepam (a benzodiazepine drug used to treat anxiety and insomnia); midazolam (another benzodiazepine, indicated for insomnia and medical sedation); lidocaine (a local anesthetic often included with propofol to relieve injection pain); diazepam (a benzodiazepine to treat anxiety, insomnia and alcohol withdrawal); and nordiazepam (a benzodiazepine-derived sedative, often used to treat anxiety) in Jackson’s bloodstream.

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