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A lethal combination 

Addiction to needless pills

Well, the results are in. The autopsy results heard 'round the world confirmed what many had thought -- actor Heath Ledger died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.

According to an article in The New York Times, a spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner's office stated that six kinds of painkillers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs were found present in his body. The actor died of acute intoxication, caused by the combined effects of the drugs. Among the drugs found in Mr. Ledger's system were two widely prescribed narcotics: oxycodone (the main ingredient in the prescription drug OxyContin) and hydrocodone (the principal pain reliever in the prescription drug Vicodin).

I am not sure of what qualifies as an accidental overdose because I am not a forensic pathologist; however, I do know that common sense would suggest that taking so many drugs at one time could have tragic consequences, as was the case with Ledger. But common sense is not so common and many of these drugs are addictive -- which is why they are prescribed ... and abused.

The abuse of prescription drugs is a major problem in this country. Abuse is often defined as the non-medical use of prescription drugs like painkillers or sleep aids to achieve a specific feeling as opposed to the intentional use of the medication.

According to an article in Science Daily, prescription painkillers are involved in more drug overdose deaths in the United States than either cocaine or heroin. For example, narcotic analgesics accounted for nearly half of drug-related deaths in Atlanta in 2005, excluding alcohol, according to a study released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Multiple indicators showed that the most commonly abused drugs in Atlanta were hydrocodone and oxycodone, which is in line with national trends.

Ledger's acting ability separated him from most, but his addiction to prescription drugs links him to many.

The use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs has gotten out of hand. The world has gone pill crazy in pursuit of fixing whatever ails us as quickly as possible. We are a culture of pill-poppers and microwave results in all aspects of our lives. If you cannot sleep, there is a pill for it. If you are overweight, there is a pill that will help you lose weight. (You might experience side effects like foul smelling gas, loose bowels and anal leakage, but you'll drop a few pounds.) All day, everyday, we are inundated with advertisements that point out what is wrong with us and what pill is needed to fix it. Prescription drug companies work in tandem with media industries to exploit our willingness to try anything once, in pursuit of perfection or healing. Prescription drug advertisements in heavy rotation coupled with a quick-fix mentally, can have negative outcomes, particularly if one has an addictive personality.

I am not talking about people who suffer from chronic pain or may be morbidly obese or have other medical conditions that require treatment. I am talking about people that take pills before trying alternatives. For example, if you cannot sleep, try eliminating caffeine, monitoring your diet or practicing meditation -- none of which have deadly outcomes. If you are overweight, adopt better eating habits, exercise or see a nutritionist. I understand that prescriptions exist for a reason, but when they are being abused to the extent that they are with such deadly consequences, then something has to be done.

There is plenty of blame to go around.

Prescription drug companies, inattentive doctors, stubborn patients, media companies and illegal pharmacies are all implicated in this alarming trend. Unfortunately, these narcotics are pretty simple to obtain. Doctors prescribe them regularly, and if your doctor will not prescribe them for you, you may find another that will. If you cannot find a doctor to prescribe narcotics, you can often buy them illegally on-line. So while many groups are implicated in this major problem, we can only look to ourselves to help remedy it. Ledger and thousands of others have learned the hard way either through carelessness or addiction. Allowing others to constantly sell us on what is right or wrong with us must end, particularly when it comes to our health. The right prescription drug in the wrong hands with a warped mentality is a lethal combination for anyone.

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