CHEVY CHASE, Md., Feb. 7 This week the Office of the New York City medical examiner issued a statement that "Mr. Heath Ledger died as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine ...We have concluded that the manner of death is an accident, resulting from the abuse of prescription medications." This tragic death of a talented and well-known performing artist offers opportunities for learning by the general public, and by physicians themselves.
Data from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, conducted annually by the University of Michigan for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, show that the unauthorized use of prescription pain killers and tranquilizers has been rising at epidemic proportions, especially among adolescents and young adults. Addiction to opioid analgesics has been the fastest rising category of addictive diseases presenting for chemical dependency treatment for almost a decade. Addiction is a serious public health problem, sparing no gender, ethnic group, or socioeconomic level of our society. It is also treatable.
The mixture of alcoholic beverages or opioid analgesics such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, with sedative hypnotics such as diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, is well known to physicians as a potentially fatal mixture when excessive doses are taken, either under a physician's prescription, or with medications obtained from friends, family, or illegal sources. The general public needs to appreciate these dangers, and physicians can help educate their patients about such risks. Persons who seek intoxication via prescription drugs can accidentally put themselves into a lethal situation. Substance abuse and dependence are serious illnesses. Persons concerned about their misuse of prescription drugs, or a family member's possible addiction, should discuss their concerns with their personal physician.
ASAM reminds physicians that no potentially addictive substance should be prescribed without obtaining a full history, including a substance use history; without clear objectives for prescribing such substances; and without clear end-points in mind for their treatment plans. ASAM encourages physician consultations for expert guidance in these patient care matters.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine is a national medical specialty society of almost 3,000 member physicians, the largest such medical association in the nation. Its mission is to improve the quality of and access to prevention, treatment, education, research and public policies addressing addiction.
CONTACT: Eileen McGrath of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, +1-301-656-3920 (ext. 105), [email protected]
SOURCE American Society of Addiction Medicine