Hours before Michael Jackson’s death, his doctor administered multiple sedatives along with a powerful anesthetic the pop star used to sleep a law enforcement official tells the AP. It’s a safe combination if done properly; potentially lethal if not.

The official said the type of sedatives Dr. Conrad Murray gave Jackson were benzodiazepines, often used to calm patients before surgery. Murray told investigators the doses were within normal medical guidelines, said the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Even at acceptable levels, benzodiazepines can intensify how the anesthetic propofol depresses breathing, so strict monitoring and careful dosing is required. The balance can be tricky, a slip-up disastrous.

Murray, who administered the drugs to Jackson in a room at the pop star’s rented mansion, told investigators Jackson stopped breathing the morning of June 25 and he was unable to revive him. The doctor is the central figure in what police term a manslaughter investigation, though authorities have not classified him a suspect.

In a written statement Thursday, Murray’s lawyer, Ed Chernoff, dismissed as “ridiculous” the official’s assertion that Murray gave Jackson multiple drugs. “We are not going to be responding to any accusations from any unnamed sources,” Chernoff said.

As investigators build their case, a central issue is what drugs were in Jackson’s system when he died. The official said preliminary toxicology tests detected the propofol, a drug normally used to render patients unconscious for medical procedures but that Jackson used as a sleep aid.

Further analysis will determine whether other drugs were present and in what quantity, allowing the coroner to conclude whether they contributed to the death. If a twice-delayed final toxicology report reveals an array of drugs, the answer to the simple question:  “What killed Michael Jackson?” will become a complex medical and legal dispute, especially if authorities can’t prove Murray knew everything Jackson was taking. That would complicate any prosecution.

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