Before Michael Jackson’s tragic death, most people never heard of the drug propofol (Diprivan). It’s not the kind of medication that anyone would ever seek out on the street. You can’t use it to get high. In fact, you can’t use it on yourself at all.
This injectable medicine is used to induce anesthesia. It takes effect very quickly, within 30 seconds to a minute, and wears off quickly as well. As a result, it is often used for diagnostic procedures such as colonoscopies as well as in the operating room when people are having a gall bladder or an appendix removed.
Anesthesiologists love proprofol because when used correctly it is one of the safest drugs used during surgery, safer, in fact, than Versed (midazolam). Versed is a Valium-like sedative that is often used along with a narcotic pain reliever such as Demerol for colonoscopies and similar procedures.
Unfortunately for Michael Jackson, news reports indicated that he received an astonishing cocktail of sedatives before he died. They included diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan) and midazolam (Versed). Some of these may have been given more than once. Later, cardiologist Conrad Murray administered propofol intravenously to knock Jackson out.
With so many different central nervous system depressants circulating in his body, it is little wonder that Michael Jackson stopped breathing. All these drugs can work together to slow or stop respiration.
In an operating room, the anesthesiologist would be carefully monitoring patient breathing and oxygen saturation. If respiration became too slow, counter measures are taken immediately to prevent complications.
The moral of this story is not that propofol is dangerous. The drug remains extremely useful in the proper setting. Anyone who thinks this happens only to celebrities is sadly mistaken. Dr. Murray and his patient both exercised poor judgment, but drug interactions are commonplace in medicine.
Each year thousands of people die because they receive prescriptions for incompatible medications. Something as seemingly simple as ibuprofen purchased over the counter for a bad backache could lead to a life-threatening bleeding ulcer when taken with the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin).
There are so many deadly combinations that it is difficult to keep track of them all. Someone taking the drug methotrexate for psoriasis or rheumatoid arthritis might be prescribed the antibiotic co-trimoxazole (Bactrim, Septra) for a urinary tract infection. The antibiotic makes methotrexate much more toxic and can result in serious blood changes that can be fatal.
Readers who would like to know more about the dangers of mixing and matching common medications may wish to consult our book, Dangerous Drug Interactions. It is available from libraries, local booksellers or online.
To avoid becoming a sad statistic, make sure your pharmacist and your physician always double check everything you take for possible interactions. Even herbs and dietary supplements can produce unexpected and hazardous reactions with certain prescribed medications.

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  1. sk

    I had 2 operations both using propofol. The first time it took me a long time to get round and still felt bad woozy hours later. However, on my 2nd operation I was coming round quicker and recovered faster. I still had to be on oxygen for most of the day/ evening. I was being monitored being in hospital, so to leave someone unattended seems risky to me..

  2. kv

    My husband just had surgery for his ankle and one of the drugs used in anesthesia was propofol and it was a very good experience, he had the same surgery on his other ankle 4 years ago and told the Doctor that he didn’t like the way he felt for days after the surgery, the Doctor checked his records for what was used in the previous surgery and said he would take care of him, well after this surgery he was alert and felt like his normal self so I would say this drug did the right job.

  3. DWD

    I probably had Diprivan last year with a catheter ablation for A-fib, and I know I had it recently for removal of a large cyst on my big toe. I went out fast, and came back quickly with no lingering effects. I will have it soon for a colonoscopy. Five years ago I had Versed, with a colonoscopy. I remembered the whole procedure but was so mellow I did not realize (or care) that the monitor I could see was the trip through my colon. I will miss that consciousness with the diprivan. Michael’s primary problem was that diprivan was only one of multiple drugs he had with little or no monitoring by trained medical staff.

  4. RMD

    With apologies to Malcolm X, it seems that the “Chickens Have Come Home To Roost” for the Drug Generation. As long as we keep taking drugs, herbs included, in an experimental and cavalier manner, we can expect these tragic deaths not only to continue, but to increase. We take Valium, Xanax and other drugs on a daily basis for their immediate effects with little concern for the long term effects, as long as it makes us feel better now.
    Sound familiar? We did this and still do it with alcohol. It seems Common Sense has taken a back seat to feeling good, the latest trends and drug advertising. I rest my case with drugs like Viagra. Instead of getting in shape physically and eating better, we find it easier to pop pills. The more things change, the less they change.

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