Michael Jackson’s Physician’s Potential Liability for Prescribing Controlled Substances per the California State Board of Medicine | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Michael Jackson’s name is filling the headlines every day as people are not only mourning the great performer, but are interested in the cause of his death.  One of the things police are clearly investigating is whether there was any wrongdoing by one of his personal physicians.  Since Michael Jackson was in California, the issue of whether controlled substances were improperly or illegally administered would be governed by the Medical Board of California as well as California State law. One of the Business and Professions Code sections in California states that “No physician and surgeon shall be subject to disciplinary action by the Board for prescribing or administering controlled substances in the course of treatment of a person for intractable pain.”  (Business and Professions Code Sec. 2241.5(c).  Clearly, the State Board of Medicine allows a physician, such as Michael Jackson’s physician, to administer controlled substances if the late singer suffered from intractable pain, but based on many first person reports of his last several weeks, it is dubious whether he suffered intractable pain.  Demerol is a controlled substance and there are allegations swirling that he may have been injected with Demerol in his last days, or a drug called Diprivan, which is often used in veterinary anesthiology.

Right now, without the toxicology results of the autopsy, now one knows what drugs were in Jackson’s body-everything is mere rumor.

Based on a position paper of the Medical Board of California in effect in 1994 and revised in 2007, it would be difficult to charge a physician for a violation of the Code of California based on prescribing a controlled substance for pain based on this provision also: 

“A physician and surgeon may prescribe for, or dispense or administer to, a person under his or her treatment for a medical condition dangerous drugs or prescription controlled substances for the treatment of pain or a condition causing pain, including, but not limited to, intractable pain.  (b) No physician and surgeon shall be subject to disciplinary action for prescribing, dispensing or administering dangerous drugs or prescription controlled substances in accordance with this section.”  Another portion of the State Board pain guidelines states that the above section “does not affect the power of the Board to discipline a physician and surgeon for any act that violates the law, including gross negligence, repeated negligent acts, or incompetence … prescribing on the internet; failure to keep complete and accurate records of purchases and disposals of controlled substances; writing false or fictitious prescriptions for controlled substances, or prescribing, administering or dispensing in violation of the pertinent sections of the Health and Safety Code.

Clearly, criminal investigators with the State of California will be looking at all of the above points to be sure that Michael Jackson’s personal physician or physicians followed proper procedures in whatever drugs were administered.  What could investigators charge a physician with? 

It is unclear but the investigators would be looking for inaccurate or incomplete records of controlled substances administered, administering a drug that was not properly prescribed (this would be highly unusual) or for that matter the possibility that a physician administered illegal drugs that were not ever prescribed for Michael Jackson, again a highly improbable circumstance.

Other provisions mentioned by the State Board of Medicine on the topic of pain guidelines notes that there is no minimum or maximum number of medications which can be prescribed to a patient under  federal or California law. 

From the evidence that has been leaked to the media or press up to this time, July 2, 2009 there seems to be little to no evidence of physician wrongdoing that contributed to Michael Jackson’s death, but clearly the autopsy will have toxicological results which will show exactly what drugs, and what levels of medications or drugs, were in Michael Jackson’s body at the time of his death.  Even if high levels are found, it will be very difficult for any investigator to prove a violation of the State Board of Medicine pain guidelines with regard to such physicians and their liability under law. 

See related article: Michael Jackson’s Death Could be Related to Medical Malpractice

Michael Jackson’s Doctor- Potential Liability For Prescribing Controlled Substances/Drugs-Analysis of California State Board of Medicine Regulations

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