I didn’t plan on writing about Michael Jackson again, but the news today (via the Associated Press, see story) is pretty shocking: Jackson paid a physician to administer the anesthetic propofol intravenously every night for two years so he could get a full night’s sleep.
On the one hand, it’s appalling; on the other, predictable. I did the same sort of thing myself. And I’m hardly unique: I’m a 44-year-old white middle-class American addict.
What’s predictable is the fact that Jackson was so desperate for sleep. If he was taking as many drugs every day as they say he was (two heavy-duty opioids, a benzodiazepine, a muscle relaxant, and more), he was definitely screwing up his body’s ability to regulate its sleep-wake cycles, also called “circadian rhythms.”
When I made it into detox last year, I was taking 100mcg/hr fentanyl—usually more, because I sometimes took more than prescribed. That’s roughly equivalent to 400mg morphine. (To give you some perspective, after routine surgery, patients are usually given 5mg Percocet, which is about equal in strength to morphine. I was taking about 80 times that, every day.)
Fentanyl is the strongest opioid available by prescription. It’s commonly used for cancer patients. I was prescribed it for migraine and fibromyalgia.
Any opioid addict will tell you that addiction wrecks your sleep.
Morphine was named after Morpheus, the god of sleep, and heroin addicts have made the image of the “nod” a cliché. But there’s another side to opioids that many non-addicts don’t realize: a spike in blood-levels can give you extra energy.
I started taking Lorcet 10mg for headaches about eight or nine years ago. (Lorcet is the same as Vicodin: it contains hydrocodone and Tylenol.) I was given 30 per month—an amount that seemed enormous then. So I took about one per day. As soon as I discovered I could get refills a bit earlier than exactly 30 days, I started taking maybe one-and-a-half per day. Here’s why: on Lorcet, I could Get Everything Done.
I could get up at 6 with my son, get breakfast, do the dishes, get him dressed, get myself dressed, get his lunch packed and get him out the door to daycare, and I was showered and in my chair ready to work by 9.
I could work at a computer for hours and never move. I could get an amazing amount of work done in the half-day I had to do it. I could get my son, put him down for a nap, get more work done, get him up, clean the house, get dinner, and after dinner, weed the garden or do other chores.
For someone like me, that level of control was central to my ability to feel like I could survive in this world.
About 18 months or two years into my run with Lorcet, I was taking two tablets per day (and facing the consequences: I’d face several days per month when I was out of medication). Because, as with any drug that results in dependence, after 18 months at the same dose, the effects of one tablet weren’t as powerful. So I increased the dose—not under supervision. Just on my own. Because, of course, I knew best.
So I could “function.”
Many addicts take drugs so they can function. For us, it was a solution. For many years, I reasoned—rationalized—that I wasn’t an addict because I had a common image of addiction: Real Junkies lay around on the couch, eating Doritos and watching soap operas.
I was Working. I was Productive. Just like Michael Jackson. Right?
The press often mentions that Jackson was taking all these drugs to “prepare” himself for the 50 London shows he’d signed for. As if it is a truth universally acknowledged that a celebrity musician—or anyone—needs drugs as part of his “preparation” for his work. Even the press continues to enable him in his death.
My habit of “preparing” for my work each day was to chew a pill or two before I even got out of bed. I chewed them to maximize their effects: most addicts discover that taking drugs in some manner “not as prescribed” is the best way to manipulate their effects. The practice led me into a deep well, out of which I’ve climbed step by step in the past nine months. I’m seeing the light, and for that I’m grateful.
What’s shocking is that there is a health professional on the face of this earth who would be so greedy for money and so interested in exploiting his association with a celebrity that he or she would agree to carry out something so harmful one time, much less over the course of two years. Not only did the practice apparently finally kill Jackson, but also the drug itself had to be stolen: propofol, an anesthetic designed for hospital use, is not available by prescription.