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Celebrity Overdoses Highlight the Prescription Drug Epidemic

The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn’t hesitate to use the word epidemic when talking about America’s abuse of prescription drugs. Many rehab experts agree, the problem has mushroomed over the last 10 to 15 years and has eclipsed many other "'street"' drugs in terms of popularity. And, if it’s true that life imitates art, then the continuing misuse of prescription drugs among the rich and famous, particularly the Hollywood set, does not bode well for the future.

According to national statistics, the number of prescription overdose deaths has more than tripled in our most recent decade. Furthermore, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that the number of babies born addicted to prescription drugs has also tripled in the last decade. The National Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) says there were seven million Americans abusing prescription medications in 2009 and by 2010 there were more than 6,000 people who start abusing them every single day.

Some big name celebrities whose lives were cut short through prescription drug abuse include: Anna Nicole Smith: The one-time playboy bunny, reality TV star and woman famous for being famous died in 2007 with her room and her body filled with prescription meds. Ms. Smith had ingested no less than four different benzodiazepines along with a host of other drugs when her life ended.

Heath Ledger: In 2008 the young actor’s body was found to be filled with a veritable cornucopia of prescription drugs. Hydrocodone, oxycodone, temazepam, diazepam, doxylamine and alprazolam were also discovered in Mr. Ledger’s blood.

Brittany Murphy: The actress had other complications (such as pneumonia) which contributed to her early demise, but at the time of her death it appeared she had taken a mix of over-the-counter and prescription drugs that proved insurmountable. Besides acetaminophen, Ms. Murphy had also swallowed chlorpheniramine, hydrocodone and methamphetamines in 2009.

Michael Jackson: The much-loved pop star’s 2009 death was the subject of a highly publicized trial. By the end of that trial, Jackson’s personal physician was facing a four-year prison sentence for overdosing the celebrity with propofol and lorazepam.

Whitney Houston: Ms. Houston’s death just this past February (2012) is only the latest in a string of Hollywood deaths where prescription medications were largely to blame. Ms. Houston drowned in her hotel bathtub, but only after overdosing on prescriptions she had obtained from five different doctors. Her room search yielded a dozen individual prescriptions and the presence of alcohol.

But just because Hollywood is shining the spotlight on this problem, don’t be fooled into thinking that it isn’t a problem for all the rest of us. Part of the problem is the glitz of imitating bad star behavior, but there is more blame to be shared. Pharmaceutical companies are fighting hard against tighter regulations intended to curb the practice. Physicians themselves can be part of the problem – take Michael Jackson’s doctor as a case in point.

The bottom line is that nobody has enough beauty, money, fame or talent to insulate them from the risks. Nevertheless, so long as Hollywood makes it appear to be part of a chic lifestyle, the perceived risk will simply not be high enough.

Posted on September 21st, 2012

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