A jury in Los Angeles has found Michael Jackson’s personal physician guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of the king of pop. Monday’s verdict came after six weeks of testimony regarding the role Dr. Conrad Murray played in Jackson’s death. In the end, jurors agreed with prosecutors who argued Murray was responsible for a lethal overdose Jackson had taken of the anesthetic propofol.
Jackson’s death was tragic. He was a talented entertainer and a cultural icon. His death shocked many Americans, much like the passing of Elvis did (under eerily similar circumstances) nearly three decades before.
Unfortunately, Jackson merely put a famous face on a tragic drug problem that kills many and ruins lives daily. Abuse of prescription painkillers is a scourge that has law enforcement official, lawmakers and medical providers looking for answers.
Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, told the Press earlier this year that prescription drugs are quickly becoming this nation’s No. 1 drug abuse problem. In 17 states, more people die from overdoses of prescription drugs than from car wrecks or any other form of accidental death.
Prescription drug abuse has long been a problem in this region, where painkillers have replaced heroin and cocaine as recreation drugs of choice. And it is not just a law enforcement issue or public health problem. It is also an economic problem that robs employers of a reliable workforce.
Perhaps that’s why members of the Tennessee General Assembly decided to take on the issue earlier this year. In the past, state lawmakers have been content with just nibbling at the edge of the problem. They passed a law a few years ago that makes it illegal for TennCare recipients to go “doctor shopping,” a practice that finds a patient going to a number of different physicians faking illness and pain to obtain prescription narcotics.
It was a modest attempt to address a problem that costs Tennesseans millions of dollars annually in inflated health care costs, crowded emergency rooms and lost employee productivity.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a law to regulate pain clinics in Tennessee. Armed with new regulations, which will be overseen by the Tennessee Department of Health, the state hopes to go after so-called pill mills, where addicts can get prescriptions written by irresponsible doctors.
It’s about time that Tennessee and other states got tougher on doctors that overprescribe narcotics and other dangerous and habit-forming drugs.