Propofol: The Michael Jackson Drug

| October 5, 2012 | 2 Comments

If you have experienced general anesthesia recently, it is very likely that you have received Propofol. ┬áIsn’t this the drug that was given to Michael Jackson?

Why would anesthesiologists use a medicine that is reported to have contributed to Michael Jackson’s death?

To fully understand this, we need to understand the role of the anesthesiologist and the safety measures they implement every time this medicine is used.

First off, propofol should NOT be used at home!

And it should NOT be used as a sleep aid. Although propofol can be used for sedation and/or to induce general anesthesia, it is not indicated to help with sleep.

This can be a bit confusing as we sometimes refer to general anesthesia as “going to sleep”.

But this is very different from the sleep disturbances that, apparently, plagued Michael.

So if it shouldn’t be used at home, propofol SHOULD be used in a medical setting with proper monitoring in place.

This includes monitoring of your heart, blood pressure, breathing, and blood oxygen levels.

There should also be oxygen available, as well as equipment to “rescue” a patient’s breathing and provide resuscitation, if needed.

An anesthesiologist is a physician that has spent years training to properly and safely take patients through these periods where their consciousness is altered.

Now, I am not an expert on the details of Michael Jackson’s death. But I do have patients all the time who ask if I am going to use “The Michael Jackson” drug. From what I hear, Propofol was being administered to Michael Jackson, in his home, to help him sleep by a physician that was not trained as an anesthesiologist (an “airway” expert).

And that is precisely why Propofol should be administered by anesthesiologists in the proper setting. Propofol can cause sedation, affect breathing patterns, and even cause a person to lose conciousness. That is why it’s so important to have an anesthesiologist there to ensure your safety while it is being administered.

In the proper setting and for certain procedures, Propofol can be given through your iv to place you under general anesthesia. In several cases, it can be used as the sole agent for general anesthesia.

Other times, Propofol is used to “induce” the general anesthetic state and then other medicines are used to keep patients asleep, out of pain, and safe during general anesthesia.

Propofol can cause slowed breathing and in high enough doses, can stop a person from breathing altogether. In combination with other general anesthesia drugs, the effect on breathing can be even more dramatic. But don’t worry, that is why you have an anesthesiologist at your side to help support your breathing if it is needed. In fact, breathing tubes are placed all of the time by anesthesiologists during general anesthesia.

Another reason why patients remember Propofol is because it looks like milk. And I have heard it called “Michael Jackson milk” by some patients. Or “the milk of amnesia”.Propofol: The Michael Jackson Drug

In any case, don’t be afraid if you ask your anesthesiologist, “Are you going to use the Michael Jackson drug?” and they say, “Yes.” We use it all of the time. It just so happens that it was used in the wrong setting and for the wrong reasons in the King of Pop’s case.

For what it’s worth, I don’t like calling Propofol the “Michael Jackson drug,” so I usually try to steer away from this conversation because of the negative connotations it inspires. But patients ask about it all of the time. So I thought I would clear the air for any of you are concerned about its use by anesthesiologists.

Leave your “propofol” comments below, with any questions or experiences you want to share.

And visit anesthesiamyths.com to read the newest posts.

See you next time!

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Comments (2)

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  1. edwin says:

    you have a scary job, with much responsibility. I’m not sure I could handle it. One screw up and you could kill someone. at least I think. Not sure if I could ever live with myself if I forgot something or screwed up so badly someone died. Does that ever worry you? Or what if you simply fall asleep and forget to monitor someone? or what if someone has a heart attack or stroke in the middle of an operation. what do you do then? Or they just die on you? how to you keep from freaking out??

    • David Draghinas says:

      Hi Edwin,

      You are right, the job of an anesthesiologist can be very stressful.

      We have gone through extensive training (4 years of medical school, 4 years of residency training) in order to be prepared to deal with the scenarios you mentioned. Part of that training is hopefully preventing many of those bad things from happening.

      And although it can be stressful at times, it is a privilege to safely take patients through what can be tough and vulnerable times.

      Dr. Dave

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