Michael Jackson Was a Drug Addict, AEG Expert Testifies

'His pleasure-reward pathways had been hijacked,' doctor says

Michael Jackson performs in Pasadena, California.
M. Caulfield/WireImage
August 28, 2013 10:55 AM ET

Michael Jackson was a "quite extensive" drug addict during the last 15 years of his life, an addiction expert testified yesterday for AEG Live as part of an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit the late singer's family filed against the concert promoter. Dr. Petros Levounis said that Jackson's substance abuse was so covert that executives had no way of knowing that the performer was putting himself at risk while preparing for his comeback tour in 2009, CNN reports. 

Bizarre Revelations from the Michael Jackson Wrongful Death Trial

A lawyer for Jackson's family countered that the singer's drug addiction had been known for quite a while, noting that Jackson had ended his 1993 Dangerous tour early to enter rehab to treat his dependence on painkillers. "If he announced it to the world it's not very private, is it?" the family's lawyer, Michael Koskoff, asked Levounis during cross-examination.

"At that moment, he was not secretive," said Levounis.

Levounis continued by saying that Jackson used opioids prescribed to him for scalp injuries sustained during a fire and cosmetic surgeries. But opioids didn't play a role in Jackson's death: According to the Los Angeles County coroner, Jackson died from an overdose of propofol, a surgical anesthetic.

Dr. Conrad Murray had given Jackson propofol for 60 consecutive nights in an effort to combat the singer's insomnia, and the judge would not allow Levounis to testify about whether he believes Jackson was addicted to the anesthetic. 

Levounis explained how addiction affects the brain by saying that a chemical "hijacks the pleasure reward pathways." 

He added that a person will likely be addicted the rest of their life.

"Michael Jackson's addiction was quite extensive and I have very little doubt that his pleasure-reward pathways had been hijacked and he suffered from addiction," he said.

Levounis also believes that Murray and Jackson were too close, making it difficult for Murray to properly treat his drug addicted patient. 

"A very close friendship between an addicted patient and a doctor is problematic. It makes it much easier for a patient to ask for drugs and it makes it more difficult for a provider to resist," Levounis said.

Yesterday was the 76th day of testimony in the wrongful death trial, which began in April. The case is expected to conclude in September.

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