Doctor warns about Michael Jackson-killer propofol

  • Breaking
  • 24/02/2014

An expert who testified against Michael Jackson's doctor is visiting Auckland, where he's given an insight into the drug that killed the singer.

Dr Steven Shafer says propofol should only ever be used as a hospital anaesthetic, but some people pay for shots to help them sleep in their beds at night.

The respected anaesthesiologist testified in the trial of Conrad Murray, the doctor convicted of killing Jackson by giving him propofol.

"The serious risk from propofol is that you stop breathing," says Dr Shafer.

Propofol is widely used as a general anaesthetic, including for surgery here.

Dr Shafer says it is very safe, but only in the right hands. Jackson was in the wrong hands. Murray had no training in anaesthetics.

"He went into an area that he had no expertise in," says Dr Shafer. "There was absolutely no reason he should be using drugs like propofol."

Worse, he couldn't revive the singer.

"He describes trying to hold MJ between his arms and push. You don't do this. You take a person and put them onto the floor so you have something to push against. You can't just squeeze a person like a hamburger."

So what should Conrad Murray have done?

"'Mr Jackson, I'm appreciative of all the money you are going to offer me and I'm appreciative of the ego boost from being Michael Jackson's doctor. Thank you for those. I don't need those.'"

But Dr Shafer does understand the lure of the drug.

"It's a very pleasant drug to get actually. It's a little bit euphoric. I've had surgery twice in the last year. I can tell you waking up from propofol is almost worth going for surgery."

That is one of the reasons some wealthy people demand it to help them sleep.

"I know of, just anecdotally, hospitals around the world, they will go and patients will pay to get a couple of CCs of propofol at night."

It's a risky business. The lifespan for abusers is just three months. And those most likely to abuse the drug are anaesthetists, who have ready access.

"It's safe when you have someone else giving it to you and watching you. It's a little bit hard to do things like resuscitate yourself."

As for Jackson, Dr Shafer says propofol was more likely to make his sleep problem worse. The help he needed should have come from a sleep clinic.

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