ACTOR'S DEATH UNDERSCORES POLYPHARMACY PITFALLS

Pharmacy Times, Volume 0, 0

Longtime Pharmacy Times writerJeannette Yeznach Wick, RPh,MBA, FASCP, was consulted by themainstream press in the aftermathof actor Heath Ledger's death onJanuary 22. A toxicology reportfound that he died of an accidentaldrug overdose as a result of taking5 prescription drugs and 1 OTCsleep aid at the same time.

In a February 6, 2008, USA Today,article, Wick said, "If this bringsattention to a problem that's notjust restricted to people who are rich and famous, it's a goodthing."

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

In the same article, Thomas Lackner, a professor in thedepartment of experimental and clinical pharmacology at theUniversity of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, said that it is nothard to get multiple prescriptions for narcotics and benzodiazepines.In addition to the OTC sleep aid, Ledger's autopsyfound 2 narcotic painkillers and 3 benzodiazepines—prescribedfor anxiety and for sleep.

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