Thursday, February 07, 2008

Death by lethal mixture

"Mr. Heath Ledger died as the result of acute intoxica- tion by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine,"… The list of generic names refer to drugs more commonly known as the painkillers OxyContin and Vicodin, the antianxiety medications Valium and Xanax, and the sleeping pill Restoril, (and) Unisom…
"While no medications were taken in excess, we learned today the combination of doctor-prescribed drugs proved lethal…

The death was ruled accidental. All of these medication cause respiratory depression, so likely the result of this mix was that his breathing stopped.

Just as overuse and abuse of prescription medications is increasing, so is the increased use of potentially deadly “cocktails” such as that that caused Mr. Ledger’s death. We have seen similar deaths with the mixture of drugs being the cause without any of them really standing out in the toxic range.

We often see prescription drugs as being so “safe”, after all someone won’t prescribe unsafe stuff. That will, at times, lull us into a false sense of security and from that come these accidents. Folks take too much of medication attempting to self-medicate/self-manage, not really thinking through that you can take too much. Or, as in this case, taking a mixture of stuff, in the hopes that it will be just the mix they need, with potential lethal results.

Prescription medications are poisons too. Prescription medications should only be taken as prescribed. Medications shouldn’t be mixed, except at the direction of, and with the knowledge of, your doctor, so that they can sort out the possible interactions and synergies.

Don’t get me started on “pharm parties”.


Anonymous said...

On an unrelated question....does the facial expression of a person at death reflect the amount of pain they may have experinced at the time of death? In other words someone passing from a very quick heart attack would not have a face as contorted as possibly a person shot/strangled etc. Or, upon death do the muscles naturally relax? thanks

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Rarely, if ever, is someone left with an expression on their face. As a part of the normal rigor mortis the muscles tighten, but then they do all relax. So, if it does occur, it is fleeting.