What Killed Heath Ledger Could Kill You, Too!

By Martin Brown

pic1It’s a frightening thought and it’s something that happens all too often in modern society, medication mistakes that harm and at times kill unsuspecting individuals. At times the mistakes are made by the physician or the care giver giving the wrong drug or the wrong combination of drugs. Too often the fault is with the patient for giving the physician or caregiver an incomplete list of the drugs that they are currently taking. While we hear of this happening most commonly among the elderly it also happens all too often to the young.

Case in point is Heath Ledger, the Oscar-nominated Australian actor, best known for his role as a stoic, closeted cowboy in the 2005 film “Brokeback Mountain,” Ledger was just 28 when he died in a Manhattan apartment  on January 22nd of this year.

In February, the New York City Medical Examiner released the following information about Ledger’s sudden and unexpected death, “We have concluded that the manner of death is accidental, resulting from the abuse of prescription medications. Mr. Ledger died as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine.”

The various drugs that he had taken were for a series of health complaints that Ledger had gotten from a variety of physicians. Hydrocodone and oxycodone are painkillers. Diazepam is an anti-anxiety drug commonly sold under the brand name Valium; alprazolam is also an anti-anxiety drug sold under such names as Xanax. Temazepam, sold under such names as Restoril and Euhypnos, is a sleeping agent. Doxylamine, an antihistamine, can be obtained over the counter as a sleep aid.

Whenever you go to one doctor while still taking drugs prescribed by another physician or purchased by you over the counter, and then not report what you are taking, the drugs dosage and the frequency with which you are taking those drugs, you are literally playing Russian Roulette with your life. Doctors in the age of set payment schedules and hurry-up appointments too often want to meet a patients needs, and or demands, write a prescription, and move on to the next patient. Sadly, also, too many physicians are swayed by high-powered executives or celebrity clients, who want a prescription and need to hurry off to their next appointment. That rush to write a prescription can be fatal as was the case with Ledger.

After the report was issued Ledger’s father Kim stated from his home in Australia, “While no medications were taken in excess, we learned today the combination of doctor-prescribed drugs proved lethal for our boy. Heath’s accidental death serves as a caution to the hidden dangers of combining prescription medication, even at low dosage.”

It was not possible for the medical examiner to conclude just what level of use all these drugs were used but it appeared to confirm his father’s statement that Ledger’s death was far more related to the combination of drugs versus any intention by the actor to harm himself by taking any one or more of the drugs in lethal or excessive dosages.

All of which is further reason for any one of us to consider the danger of mixing medications and not fully disclosing to our physicians any and all medications we are taking, prescribed or simply purchased over the counter. It would be great if all doctor’s said, “I’m not going to write this prescription until I have a complete list of all the medications you are taking” Too often that is not said, and not asked. So play safe and tell all whether you are asked or not. It can well be a matter of life and death!  


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