Witness: Michael Jackson’s doctor erred in giving drug
Dr. Steve Shafer calls the use of propofol “jaw dropping.”
Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 9:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 9:50 p.m.
The drug that killed Michael Jackson might have revolutionized surgery — making recovery much easier to take — but Dr. Conrad Murray's administration of it to the pop star was “jaw dropping,” according to the anesthesiologist who testified for the prosecution.
Fresh from the November trial, Dr. Steve Shafer, a professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University, was a visiting professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine this week to talk about his role in the trial and other topics with medical trainees.
Murray, a cardiologist, was sentenced to four years in prison for involuntary manslaughter on Nov. 29. Jackson had been in Murray's care at the time of his death.
Testimony at the trial showed Murray had administered the surgical anesthetic propofol to Jackson just before his death after the pop star begged him to give him something to sleep.
“To see that drug administered in that setting suggested … (Murray) had no clue what he was doing,” Shafer said. “MJ could have requested intravenous maple syrup, but that doesn't excuse Murray giving it to him.”
Shafer, however, said he rejects the notion that his testimony served as the linchpin of the prosecution's case that prompted the jury to return the verdict after two days of deliberations.
“He was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for exactly the same reasons that were obvious 48 hours after MJ passed away,” he said.
Shafer said that propofol has improved patients' experience of surgery tremendously and, even though there is potential for abuse, he's against scheduling the drug as the federal government classifies drugs like cocaine, heroin, marijuana and powerful prescription painkillers.
That's because surgeons in the operating room need access to large amounts and quickly, which would become problematic if propofol was scheduled.
“In the recovery room, you used to see people throwing up,” he said. “Now you see them awake, comfortable and not miserable at all.”
The problem is that it also depresses the breathing reflex. he said.
He said that the trend that made Florida the center of trafficking for powerful prescription painkillers also has made many of his colleagues reluctant to prescribe them — even for people at the end of life, managing cancer pain or dealing with chronic pain.
“The long-term solution requires new biology — drugs that treat pain without opioids,” he said. “What makes opioids so good is that they block pain. And the part of the brain that deals with physical pain is the same part that deals with psychological pain.”