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ACTOR'S DEATH UNDERSCORES POLYPHARMACY PITFALLS

Published Online: Saturday, March 1, 2008   [ Request Print ]

Longtime Pharmacy Times writer Jeannette Yeznach Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP, was consulted by the mainstream press in the aftermath of actor Heath Ledger's death on January 22. A toxicology report found that he died of an accidental drug overdose as a result of taking 5 prescription drugs and 1 OTC sleep aid at the same time.

In a February 6, 2008, USA Today, article, Wick said, "If this brings attention to a problem that's not just restricted to people who are rich and famous, it's a good thing."

"The place where we get ink with polypharmacy is with elders," Wick continued. "The problem is we don't get any ink with younger people."

In the same article, Thomas Lackner, a professor in the department of experimental and clinical pharmacology at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, said that it is not hard to get multiple prescriptions for narcotics and benzodiazepines. In addition to the OTC sleep aid, Ledger's autopsy found 2 narcotic painkillers and 3 benzodiazepines—prescribed for anxiety and for sleep.

Because it is unknown how Ledger obtained scripts for all these drugs, Lackner said they may have been prescribed by a single physician. He said that some physicians will do that "just to satisfy their patients. In the end, it harms their patient." For a related article, visit www.PharmacyTimes.com/polypharmacy.

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