February 9th, 2010
05:09 PM ET

Treating addicts: What we may (or may not) learn from the Conrad Murray case

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/CRIME/02/05/michael.jackson.doctor.charges/story.murraymug.gi.jpg caption="Dr. Conrad Murray told authorities he administered sleep aids to Michael Jackson." width=300 height=169]

Tanya M. Acker
AC360° Contributor

With the indictment of Dr. Conrad Murray, a new media feeding frenzy begins.

As an attorney, I am both familiar with and thankful for the legal presumption of innocence that is a cornerstone of the American criminal justice system. I also know that presumption is often more meaningful in theory than in practice; having at times represented litigants who were viewed with some measure of social opprobrium, I have some sense of what it is to be on the wrong side of a public relations juggernaut.

Dr. Murray’s team, of course, has its own story to tell. We have recently heard a good deal about the doctor’s history serving disadvantaged patients – service for which I am sure those patients are grateful. I am also certain that there may be other elements of his defense about which we are unaware and which may or may not ultimately prove persuasive to a jury. And before we assume that we know more about this case than we actually do, I would like to point out that I have seen gross abuses of state power – with respect both to well-funded criminal defendants and others – so we should be wary about blindly accepting the allegations set forth by the prosecution.

And while I am also aware of the fact that Dr. Murray maintains that he did not administer to Michael Jackson anything that should have killed him, he did admit to injecting Jackson with Propofol – a drug that typically is used only as a surgical anesthetic. (My doctor, by contrast, gives me the third degree when I want an Ambien prescription. Ambien, like many sleeping aids, is dangerously addictive).

Ours is a society where the wealthy have access to a standard of service – be it legal, medical, or (as the Supreme Court ensured in Citizens United, when it opened the floodgates to corporate spending in elections), political – about which most of us can only dream. But if, as the prosecutors allege, that wealth bought Michael Jackson not a more valuable standard of care but instead the indulgence of a dangerous habit, then Dr. Murray’s alleged susceptibility to those dollars may have precipitated the premature demise of a cultural icon.

It seems odd – to me, at least – that a doctor would not be sufficiently alarmed by a patient’s need for such a strong sleeping aid as to immediately refer him for treatment for an underlying addiction. But then, it also seems odd that those entrusted with the care of this democracy think it more useful to feed us partisan half-truths, blatant lies, and quick fix solutions instead of addressing in a meaningful way the compelling issues that ail us.

Michael Jackson’s death was ruled a homicide and for that he and his family deserve justice. I don’t know what form that justice will take and I’m not interested in jumping on the bandwagon calling for Dr. Murray’s head before I have access to all of the facts. I do wonder, however, whether anyone will ensure that the American body politic will receive its own measure of justice – or whether we will instead remain hostage to our addiction to short-term fixes and painless solutions.

Follow Tanya on Twitter @tanyaacker.

soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Kat

    I see him as a scape goat. If Michael did not want the drugs, he could not have given it to him. Michael was obviously not forced to take it.

    Did Sony have anything to do with his death? Did he get money to give Mike a bit more than normal?

    Hopefully these doctors learn to say a firm no, no more! hope they learn to keep notes and recordings to prove that they declined just incase these crazy people try to destroy them for saying no to drugs.

    Walk away from their money. It is not worth it. A lot of Hollywood, the music industry, business world is loaded with drugs both legal and illegal. Then people want these crazy people to be role models for their kids??

    February 10, 2010 at 8:43 am |
  2. John Thomas

    I do not believe Dr. Murray is guilty of criminal wrongdoing. I believe that his actions, while grossly improper, do not rise to the level of negligence or recklessness needed to sustain the charge of manslaughter.

    I also do not believe he was trying to treat Jackson appropriately. Dr. Murray's actions show not the slightest conformity with any published treatment guidelines or any evidence-based recommendations for the treatment of insomnia. Had Jackson died of an overdose of or complication arising from Zalpelon or some other appropriate agent I do not believe Dr. Murray would be in anywhere near the trouble he is now.

    February 10, 2010 at 12:34 am |
  3. Tim Gibson

    Yet had Dr. Murray been selling injections to addicts on the street corner with Propofol he would have been dropped to the ground by a team of three or four DEA agents, face in the gravel, handcuffed and taken to jail. Speical rights for the elite among the addicts and their dealers. Maybe us everyday normal folks are hard pressed to assume anything other than how we ourselves would have been subjected to innocent until proven guilty.

    February 9, 2010 at 6:17 pm |