Celebrity Drug Overdoses - Who's Really To Blame?
John Belushi, Dana Plato, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, River Phoenix, Chris Farley, Anna Nicole Smith...and now Heath Ledger. You may have guessed already what the connection is... untimely death due to "accidental" drug overdoses.
Really? "Accidental"? The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English (okay, so I used a British dictionary but hey...the language is theirs afterall...) defines the word "accident" as "something that happens unexpectedly and is not planned in advance". Granted, some of the aforementioned celebrities died from overdoses of illicit drugs that could not have been monitored by medical professionals but for those who didn't, I hardly think that what could very well be considered medical malpractice or even gross negligent conduct should be classified as an accident. Well-documented clinical evidence abounds regarding drug interactions with a lot of the major culprits so prescribing them all together or practicing polypharmacy can hardly be described as an accident.
Before I go on, I will give the medical practitioners under whose care these people were the benefit of the doubt that perhaps their celebrity patients were practicing "poly-medicine", i.e. using multiple physicians to get medications and not letting one doctor know what the other might be doing by withholding that information. In this situation, the medical providers can't be held as responsible. Lots of addicts with drug-seeking behavior will do this...it's nothing new. However, in the (more likely) situation that they were under the care of one primary provider then this is where my rant begins.
As a medical professional, it is expected that by virtue of your training you ought to know what is in the best health interest of your patient. Therefore, why exactly one would prescribe multiple drugs that have well documented fatal interactions with each other to a patient who is not being closely monitored...or even monitored at all, is beyond me. But it doesn't end with the prescribers. Those prescriptions have to be filled at a licensed pharmacy somewhere right? Pharmacists are usually the last stop and final check point before a patient is off on their own. Should such drug interactions have been caught and acted upon? Most definitely, yes!
But lest I come off as a "medical professional hater"...I'm one of them, so that would be self-hatred... far from it. I do know that some patients get really creative when it comes to deceptive practices. Using multiple physicians, multiple pharmacies, and sometimes multiple aliases (as I have heard some celebrties are also known to do), thus making it hard to keep track of what is really going on medically with a given patient. So what's the solution? Centralized electronic medical records that are tied to one's DNA or retinal scan and accessible to any medical professional involved in one's care... don't knock the idea... it could happen, and should... soon.
Shameless plug: in the meantime, anyone is free to use our very own Healthline Drug Interaction Checker tool to look up drug interactions between drugs they are taking themselves. The tool is free and comes with a tutorial if you need extra help. And just in case you forgot what the medication in that brown bottle is because you transferred it out of its original container (yes, this actually does happen way too often), then you can also use our very own Healthline Pill Finder tool. Plug in the description of the pill - color, shape, visible markings - and voila!
Photo courtesy of Miyoko Schmez aka Laura