September 27th, 2011
05:06 PM ET
With the opening of the trial for Michael Jackson's doctor Conrad Murray, we'll be hearing the word "propofol" a lot again.
The Los Angeles County coroner ruled that the pop superstar died on June 25, 2009 from "acute propofol intoxication." The anesthetic was among the drugs found in Jackson's body at the time of his death, according to the autopsy toxicology report.
Propofol, whose trade name is Diprivan, is commonly used to sedate people undergoing colonoscopies, and leaves patients feeling well-rested when they wake up, experts say. It is not approved to treat sleep disorders, which is reportedly how Jackson was using it.
And since the singer's death, doctors have had many conversations that begin with patients saying, "I don’t want that stuff. That’s the stuff that killed Michael Jackson," says Dr. John Dombrowski, a member of the board of directors of the American Society of Anesthesiology.
But it's also provided a teaching opportunity for physicians to explain to patients that medications like propofol do not directly kill or harm patients; it's the improper administration and inattention to detail that can be lethal.
Propofol should be administered only by people trained in giving general anesthesia, and who are not involved in the conduct of the surgery or diagnostic procedure, according to the The U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Prosecutors have accused Murray of taking part in Jackson's overdose of propofol, alleging that Murray gave the pop icon a makeshift intravenous drip to administer the drug, intended to help Jackson sleep.
This drug should never be used outside a hospital or other controlled medical setting, experts say.
Irrespective of Jackson, propofol has been concerning because it has been abused by health care workers in some cases. There are some who say it should be a controlled substance that needs to be put on a "schedule" of drugs that have very limited distribution and strict accounting of their use. The American Society of Anesthesiologists has pushed for this scheduling, but no decision has been made on it.
"But if done safely, with the right training, it’s been [the case] for millions of patients that they go to sleep and they wake up very comfortable and safe," Dombrowski said.
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