"199 prescriptions totaling more than 10,000 doses of sedatives, amphetamines, and narcotics in first 8 months of 1977."
"On August 16, 1977, Elvis Presley was last seen alive.
I put it that way out of deference to those who still contend that Elvis is alive (most of whom are the same folks who think that the moon landings were faked on a back lot in Hollywood).
In fact, Elvis died of a cardiac arrhythmia; legend has it that he was seated on the toilet at the time. The two principal laboratory reports and analyses filed after his death each attributed his death to the fact that he was taking too many different drugs. One report, by BioScience Laboratories, found fourteen different drugs in Elvis' system, ten in significant quantity.
Elvis' personal physician, Dr. George Nichopoulos, was found to have written Elvis 199 prescriptions totalling more than 10,000 doses of sedatives, amphetamines and narcotics in the first 8 months of 1977. Dr. Nichopoulos was charged with prescription fraud (criminally) and was threatened with the loss of his medical license. He defended himself by saying that he was actually trying to get Elvis to stop taking so many drugs.
The whole story of Elvis' drug abuse is amazing.
Elvis had a history of disrupted sleep, sleepwalking and nightmares going back to childhood. It intensified after the death of his mother and after he was drafted into the army in 1957. By the mid-1950's, Elvis had started using amphetamines; they were legal as appetite suppressants until 1965. They kept him going and they kept his weight down. They also, of course, kept him awake. He had become what Dr Nick calls a 'night person'.
By the time he became a patient of Dr. George Nichopoulos in 1967 (he saw "Dr. Nick" for insomnia), Elvis was taking both uppers and downers: Tiunal, Desbutal, Escatrol, and the powerful tranquilizer Placidyl.
At first, Dr. Nick treated Elvis only on the odd occasions when he came back to Memphis from his house in LA. "He was still in the movies. I didn't really become his primary doctor until he moved back here. Around '70."
But in 1969, Elvis began making month-long visits to the International Hotel in Las Vegas, where he would give two live performances nightly. He needed amphetamines before his shows, and tranquilizers afterwards. And Dr. Nick kept writing the prescriptions. He was not in Las Vegas all the time; he would fly out from time to time, and then would fly back to Memphis to maintain his surgery practice.
Dr. Nichopoulos claimed that he tried to manage Elvis' drug intake when he was in town, but when he wasn't in Las Vegas, there were other doctors who would prescribe for him. One -- Dr. Thomas 'Flash' Newman -- earned his nickname for his ability to appear at a moment's notice with whatever drug Elvis wanted. After Priscilla left him in 1971, Elvis's behavior became more erratic. He spent more and more time in a chemical fog.
In 1973, he overdosed twice on barbiturates. He began cancelling shows more and more often. At the end of the year he was admitted, semi-comatose, to Baptist Hospital in Memphis. This time, he had been secretly seeing a doctor in Los Angeles. He was suffering from poisoning from cortisone injections (probably for rheumatoid arthritis), and had become addicted to the very potent opiate Demerol. Dr. Nick put him on methadone, and tried to stop the flow of other mediations from other doctors.
"Elvis's problem," Dr. Nichopoulos has said, "was that he didn't see the wrong in it. He felt that by getting it from a doctor, he wasn't the common everyday junkie getting something off the street. He was a person who thought that as far as medications and drugs went, there was something for everything."
One time when he was in the hospital, Dr. Nick and Elvis's road manager, Joe Esposito, raided Elvis's bedroom at Graceland: they found three giant pharmacy-sized jars, each containing 1,000 high-dose Seconal (a barbiturate), Dexedrine (an amphetamine) and Placidyl (a tranquilizer). There were even vials of pills hidden in the seams of the curtains.
Afterwards, whenever Elvis went to see a dentist or another doctor for any reason, Dr. Nick went with him, because he would always talk the new doctor into prescribing him just about anything.
Dr. Nichopoulos testified that he refused to give Elvis what he wanted, Elvis would just find another doctor. "He'd get mad at me, and he'd get on his plane and fly to Vegas or Palm Springs or California and stay for a few days and get what he wanted. And I'd have to take it away from him when he got back home."
After a series of embarrassing on-stage disasters and show cancellations when other doctors tried their methods on Elvis, Dr. Nick became the regular tour physician. Licensed only to prescribe drugs in Tennessee, he would stock up on "supplies" before leaving the state. After the first couple of times out, he got to know what he would need in advance. He began each tour with three locked suitcases filled with prescription drugs.
Dr. Nick tried to control the drugs for Elvis. On tour, Elvis would come to him at regular intervals: on waking; before the show; after the show; and at bedtime. Each time, he would be allowed specific uppers and downers in the lowest doses Dr. Nick thought he could get away with. At home, without the excuse that he needed amphetamines to perform, Elvis was given just the manila envelopes of sleeping tablets -- "bedtime packet number one" and "bedtime packet number two" -- to be handed out separately during the night. During the 10 years he treated him, Dr. Nick never knew Presley to sleep for longer than three hours at a stretch without waking up, looking for more pills.
When Elvis started claiming symptoms that Dr. Nichopoulos could not confirm, he began giving Elvis placebos.
"On the road, he was so afraid that he wouldn't get enough sleep to do a good show the next night that he would end up asking you for an extra pill or two. So those extra pill or twos would be placebos."
When Dr. Nick was in Las Vegas or on tour with Elvis, he would spend his spare time making counterfeit pills for the King. "We'd sit around," he testified, "and, instead of playing cards, we'd make placebos." Using syringes, they'd suck the liquid out of capsules and refill them with saline solution. When Elvis asked for a shot that he didn't need, Dr. Nick would wait until his back was turned, squirt the liquid on the floor, and then 'inject' his patient with the emptied syringe.
Elvis's favorite painkiller was Dilaudid, an extremely powerful opiate. Evidence at his trial showed that Dr. Nick persuaded Knoll, the manufacturers of Dilaudid, to make a special batch of a thousand pills without any active ingredients. It took a year of letter-writing and legal wrangling. But they looked just like the real thing.
Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977. At the time of his death, he was suffering from glaucoma, high blood pressure, liver damage and an enlarged colon. All of these ailments were aggravated, if not caused, by drug abuse. "He didn't have any major heart problems. Even with his obesity and everything - that's what really surprised me. I was dumbfounded that he died."
In September, 1979, the Tennessee Medical Board charged Dr. Nichopoulos with gross malpractice over the illegal prescription of painkillers and other drugs to Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and 12 other patients. The following day, the district attorney's office announced they were looking into whether Dr Nick could be held criminally responsible for Elvis's death. They said that they ruled out murder charges because of the conflicting medical opinions about the cause of death.
The Medical Board heard evidence of astounding volumes of prescriptions written by Dr Nick. Between 1975 and 1977, he had prescribed 19,000 doses of drugs. In the first eight months of 1977 alone, he had written 199 prescriptions totalling more than 10,000 doses of sedatives, amphetamines and narcotics: all in Elvis's name. (That's 40 doses a day!) The board found him guilty of overprescription, but decided that his actions were not unethical. They suspended his license to practice medicine for three months and put him on three years' probation.
Four months later, he was arrested on similar charges. On May 16, 1980, still in his white coat, Dr. Nick was charged with 14 counts of abusing his license to prescribe controlled drugs. He faced from two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000 for each count.
The trial began in October, and after a month-long trial, the jury concluded that he had tried to act in the best interests of his patients. He was acquitted on all counts.
In 1992, a tougher, more aggressive Tennessee Medical Board once again charged him with overprescription. Dr. Nick argued that he was attempting to help patients who suffered from inoperable chronic pain. The case dragged on for three years, but in July 1995, he was stripped of his license.
In 1994, the inquiry into the death of Elvis was re-opened. "There is nothing," said coroner Dr Joseph Davis, "in any of the data that supports a death from drugs. In fact, everything points to a sudden, violent heart attack.""
Democratic Central, August 16, 2007
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