Michael Jackson: The King of Pills

The King is dead, long live the King. The multi-talented and charismatic performer may be gone, to live on in a digitally-recorded afterlife, but I suspect that we'll soon learn that the death of Michael Jackson the man was caused in large part by his addiction to prescription medication.

Everyone is anxiously waiting to pounce on the doctors, nurses, and/or pharmacists who gave Jackson seemingly unlimited access to whatever pill or drip he needed/wanted/craved. The media will have a field day crucifying those who handed out prescriptions to whichever alias he was using at the time. There are cries of "foul play," intimations of murder. But I'm sure no one forced Jackson to swallow his pills or held him down to inject IVs into his veins. When you're an addict, you're sure you can't exist without your substance of choice; wild horses couldn't stop you from seeking it out, from creating a network of enablers to bolster your habit. (And I'm qualified to speak on this subject - I've got over 25 years of sobriety under my belt).

In fact, the real culprit in this tragedy is less a negligent doctor or well-paid enabler than the cultural milieu we live in: let's pop a pill and make all our problems go away!

Whether it's junior raiding mom's medicine cabinet for those leftover Vicodans from her gall bladder surgery, or sis abusing oxycontin, or mom filling extra prescriptions for her own use of the ADHD medication meant for her kid because it helps her lose weight, or dad popping that little blue pill that makes him feel more like a man, we're all reaching for the pill bottle way too often rather than going through the hard work of examining and working on our issues and life changes.

Approximately a third of all U.S. drug abuse is prescription drug abuse. The latest statistics indicate that an estimated 5.2 million Americans, age 12 or older, used prescription pain relievers for non-medical purposes! And talk about enablers . . . did you realize that there are approximately 800,000 web sites that sell prescription drugs and ship them right to your home with few questions asked? There are obviously a lot of people reaching for mother's little helper.

Are we surprised, then, that Michael Jackson is being linked to such a wide array of pain killers (Demerol, Oxycodone, Dilaudid, Vicodan), anti-anxiety (Xanax) and anti-depressant meds (Zoloft), and even anesthetizing himself with the "milk of amnesia" (Deprivan, used to knock out patients in hospitals prior to surgery) so he could sleep? A police report prepared for Jackson's 2004 child-abuse trial alleges he was taking up to 40 Xanax pills a night. After his death, bottles of Deprivan were found in his home, along with the IV equipment needed to administer the powerful anesthetic.

Addiction is nasty, but who's got time these days to work through their anger at their ex's cheating ways, or grieve over a parent's death, or find the cause of the back pain that comes on whenever something goes wrong at work? Pop a pill. It's fast. It's a surefire escape route from whatever's bothering you. If you're Michael Jackson, that could be the abuse you suffered as a child, the bad press you've gotten for years as a possible child molester and all-around strange person, coupled with performance anxiety about a 50-night concert tour you might not be physically able to handle. At least until your tolerance builds to the point where your favorite drug no longer works, and you need more . . . and stronger . . . and hey, shooting it up might work better than swallowing a pill . . . and . . . and . . . there we are, watching a memorial service.

Wouldn't it be better to shelve the pills and acknowledge the problem, whatever it is? To find the truth that's being blurred or slurred by painkillers, to examine the cause of the anxiety hidden under the Xanax, to admit the addiction and seek real help, not another enabler? There are 12-step programs out there for every kind of addiction. There are addiction therapists if group sobriety is not for you. The ones who really love you will stand behind your efforts, and be thankful that they won't be attending your memorial any time soon.