What do they have in common? Accidental prescription drug poisoning.
Yes, Heath Ledger died after mixing pain medicines, anti-anxiety medicines and sedatives. And, while we don’t know the exact cause of Michael Jackson’s death yet (and we may never know), I think it’s a safe bet to say he died of prescription drugs gone wrong.
We hear a lot about the celebrities who die from drug overdoses, either intentional via suicide or by tragic accident like Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger. But, over 20,000 Americans also died from accidental overdose, the CDC said in 2004, the last year they counted this data. These accidents shouldn’t happen.
Unfortunately, accidental overdoses, aka fatal poisonings from prescription drugs, have increased substantially in the U.S. in the last decade. The numbers show women are hit hard. From 1999 to 2004, the death rate due to accidental poisoning doubled in women. Data suggest that this increase in accidental fatal poisonings is related to the increased use of pain medicines like OxyContin, which hit the market in 1996.
But sedatives and tranquilizers are also frequently involved. Taking large doses of these medicines or combining them with alcohol can slow the breathing rate. Overdoses and drug interactions can cause respiratory arrest, essentially a complete cessation of breathing, which then leads to cardiac arrest. The heart stops because no oxygen is reaching it to keep it beating.
The CDC said that accidental overdoses don’t just happen in big cities like Los Angeles or New York, either. The states with the largest increase in accidental fatal poisonings from 1999 to 2004 were West Virginia, Oklahoma, Maine, Montana, and Arkansas.
The risk for incorrect use of prescription drugs is higher than we’d all like to believe. Fortunately, most accidental overdoses aren’t fatal. Recently, the FDA and CDC have been working to track which drugs are involved in overdoses and why. Then, doctors and patients should be able to do more to prevent these occurrences.
If you or a loved one is taking many types of medicines, particularly a narcotic pain medicine and other drugs, make sure to always check doses and potential drug interactions with your doctor.