DRUG DIVERSION & ABUSE: Icon Tragedies

Cmdr John Burke
Published Online: Saturday, August 15, 2009

Commander John Burke

The recent death of Michael Jackson from a reported overdose of prescription drugs seems to be all too common in the world of celebrities and stars that grace our television or movie screens. Regardless of your opinion of Jackson’s life and career, he was an icon in the field of music, presumably struck down through the overindulgence of pharmaceutical drugs. Millions of people from around the world bought his recordings and idolized him.

I could not help but compare this icon’s life and death with another musical icon, Elvis Presley. Presley was the undisputed rock-and-roll icon for decades, with his only close competition being Jackson. Whether Presley or Jackson emerges as the king is something that will be debated for many years and is really inconsequential to the fact that 2 talented human beings met an untimely death due to the abuse of prescription drugs.

Presley and Jackson both had incredible careers, with each of them earning hundreds of millions of dollars while they were alive, with money continuing to pour in long after their deaths. Both appear to have had people, including physicians, who tended to them and should have had their best interests at heart. Someone had to prescribe all of those drugs, however, and 1 or more pharmacies had to dispense them. Stage with rose

Presley’s physician ended up having his license suspended, but he did not receive criminal charges. Jackson appears to have had multiple prescribers tending to him, with the last one reportedly receiving $150,000 a month to be his live-in physician while he went on his European tour. This physician apparently has no Drug Enforcement Administration license in California, but propofol, meperidine, alprazolam, and oxycodone were reportedly found in Jackson’s house.

Other reports indicate that prescriptions may have been written in false names to protect Jackson’s identity. This subject has been the topic of at least 2 other articles I have written, and it is blatantly illegal for the prescriber and the dispenser, if they are aware of the falsification. In addition, it has been reported that Jackson had a $100,000 outstanding bill at the pharmacy.

The Jackson investigation will likely go on for several months, maybe a year or more. The media frenzy on this has been incredible, and we will all likely hear rumors and half-truths before the investigation is completed. I can only hope that law enforcement and regulatory agencies from either the federal government or California are aggressively pursuing this case to identify those who have enabled this activity and even possibly committed manslaughter during the process.

Some of you may think that continuing to harp on this point is unnecessary, because the vast majority of pharmacists in this country would not fill prescriptions that they know to be false. I would certainly agree that pharmacists are a tremendous group of caring health professionals, but they are also human beings.

I only bring up this case as another reminder that dispensing pharmacists can get themselves into major administrative and criminal trouble by knowingly filling prescriptions that contain false information. In addition, your “corresponding responsibility” is a warning about filling prescriptions that are, by virtually anyone’s standards, potentially harmful to the patient. Did this happen in the Michael Jackson case? Only time will tell.

The patient does not have to be as famous as Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley—he or she can just be your small town mayor, police chief, health professional, or businessperson. Do not allow yourself to be pressured into this kind of activity, no matter what the situation. Pharmacists are too much in demand; we cannot afford to lose you.



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