Fatimah Ali: Michael & his many drugs

A DARK cloud is hovering around the globe as Michael Jackson's fans come to terms with his death and his family's attempts to untangle his broken life.

As the world anxiously awaits final autopsy reports and word of funeral arrangements, "the Gloved One's" passing has ripped a hole through our hearts. Preliminary news leaks indicate that the state of Jackson's health was horrendous, and that long-term addiction may have played a big role in his death.

If this proves true, I'm certain that a number of doctors will be implicated. As tragic as his death is to fans around the world, it should also be used as a teachable moment for all of us, as well as the entire medical industry.

Like many, I'm heartbroken that Jackson left this world so young. Just days before Jackson died, I watched my nephew moon walking at my sister's 25th wedding anniversary, where three generations of us danced all night to Jackson's hits.

The news of his death made me reach out to my nephew's father, well-known jazz bassist Marcus Miller, who called Jackson his early inspiration and "the defining voice of the '70s."

The basic contradiction of Michael Jackson was that we loved his artistic genius, but we couldn't process his self-mutilation and his bizarre lifestyle.

Via e-mail, Miller said: "I don't think I can remember one person who wasn't amazed by Michael's artistry. Miles Davis, Luther Vandross, Roberta Flack, some of the greatest artists in the world, all told me how in awe of him they were. If that weren't enough, MJ singlehandedly revolutionized music videos."

Remembering the demise of the early Jackson, with his adorable Afro, pre-weirdness, Marcus added, "Michael Jackson was obviously dealing with demons created by a childhood that none of us can ever imagine or understand."

Apparently, those demons haunted him throughout his adulthood. The world watched as his personal life spun out of control. The sad truth is, the people who surrounded him and should have protected him from further self-harm were instead complicit with his addictions to spending sprees and drugs.

Close friend Deepak Chopra says he warned Jackson several years ago about abusing prescription drugs. Chopra, an internist and renowned integrative healer, has penned numerous books on health, meditation and physics. He says prescription-drug abuse is common in Hollywood, and that celebrities often run from one doctor to another until they get their "fix."

Years ago, I interviewed Chopra, he told me that people are the sum of one "collective shadow." In this case, the shadow is addiction, symbolic of the need for society to focus on more control over pharmaceuticals.

Dr. Robert Clark, a Philadelphia addiction specialist who was chief psychiatrist at Camp Hill Prison, said doctors must be cautious when prescribing powerful narcotics like Demerol because there is always the risk of cardiac arrest, and dutiful physicians are careful about drug interactions when prescribing: "You always worry about respiratory depression and sudden cardiac arrest with any powerful narcotic."

Clark agrees with Chopra that "powerful prescription drugs are easily accessible to the wealthy, particularly in places like Hollywood, where money often speaks more loudly than the patient's welfare."

Addicts are usually crafty at hiding the truth and often manipulate people to feed their addictions. Unless their loved ones can get them into treatment, they may ultimately destroy themselves. Jackson's family says they worried about his affinity for painkillers and were unsuccessful with getting him the help he obviously needed.

But perhaps we all have it wrong.

Maybe his passing was actually a mercy from God, who knew that he was tired of trying to survive, surrounded by people who all demanded too many things from him, including perfection.

Now, the wonderman who mesmerized the world with his genius is at peace. Although we will, sorrowfully, never see him perform again, the gifts he left us will live forever. He is free from the pain and debt that tormented him.

 

AS THE BITTER truth unfolds, lawmakers have a golden opportunity to do something about the drug-interaction problem, which frequently flies beneath the radar.

Developing computer software that interfaces with pharmacists and tracks a patient's medical history as well as all of his prescriptions might prevent a repeat of Jackson's disastrous demise.

I hope Congress uses this tragedy as an example of why it must crack down on the abuse of legal drugs while reforming our nation's health care. *

Fatimah Ali is a journalist, media consultant and an associate member of the Daily News editorial board.

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