November 8, 2011
The death of Michael Jackson at the hands of his physician Conrad Murray exposes a little-known but potentially highly dangerous fact: any licensed physician can prescribe any patient almost any medicine.
Jennifer Bard, Alvin R. Allison Professor of Law and director, Health Law Program, Texas Tech University School of Law, (806) 742-3990 ext. 349, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• After criminal charges were filed against Murray in relation to Jackson’s death, the Texas Medical Board entered into an “agreed order of restriction” in which Murray agreed to “be restricted from using or administering any anesthetic agent that is normally administered by an anesthesiologist, including but not limited to propofol or any other heavy sedative medications,” but they were careful to say that the order does not prohibit him from prescribing pain medication or anti-anxiety medication.
• Even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves drugs only for specific uses with specific patient populations, there is no legal barrier to doctors prescribing the drug “off-label” once it is on the market.
• According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there has been at least a 10-fold increase in the medical use of opioid painkillers during the last 15 years because of a movement toward more aggressive management of pain.
• Once the drugs reach patients, the results can be disastrous. According to the CDC, “Drug overdose deaths were second only to motor vehicle crash deaths among leading causes of unintentional injury death in 2006 in the United States.”
• “Michael Jackson’s death came as a direct result of a doctor who had no training in anesthesiology administering a highly dangerous and potent drug never intended to be used outside of an operating room.”
• “Dr. Murray’s actions in prescribing an operating room drug are extreme, but deaths from more commonly prescribed narcotics are increasingly common. The laws intended to monitor prescription of dangerous drugs are there to prevent these drugs being sold on the open market, not to protect the patient.”
“Dr. Murray's use of propofol as a home administered sleep-aid is an example of the harm that can come from unlimited prescription powers.”