Powerful Prescription Drugs May Have Had Role in Celebrity Death
> 1/24/2008 12:19:36 PM

Oscar nominated actor Heath Ledger passed away this past Tuesday in his New York City apartment. At the age of 28, Ledger was a highly regarded screen presence who had appeared in such films as 10 Things I Hate About You, A Knight's Tale, and perhaps most famously Brokeback Mountain, for which Ledger received his Oscar nod. While many of the details of his passing remain unclear, what is agreed upon is that Ledger was discovered unconscious in his bedroom on the afternoon in question and could not be revived despite the best efforts of emergency response personnel. Approximately 30 minutes elapsed between the time that a masseuse discovered Ledger's unresponsive form and the time that police were called; he was pronounced dead shortly after authorities arrived.

A search of the apartment in the wake of this tragedy uncovered no illegal drugs, but revealed that Ledger had several powerful prescription drugs in his apartment. While most mainstream news outlets have reported that there were six different prescriptions, and that some were anti-anxiety medications and sleeping aides, most outlets have demurred at specifically naming the substances. Other, more celebrity focused outlets, have reported that these scripts were for Ambien, Xanax, and Valium. Results of an autopsy were inconclusive on Wednesday, and examiners say that it will be at least a week before anything further is known.

We do not want to engage in idle speculation, but there are several questions that should be kept in mind as more information becomes available: what role did these psychoactive compounds play in Mr. Ledger's untimely passing? How did an otherwise healthy 28-year-old obtain prescriptions for these medications, and for what conditions were they prescribed? Perhaps most importantly, where is the physician who gave Mr. Ledger access to this dangerous cocktail of powerful drugs?

Unfortunately, no set of answers will bring back this talented individual, but in the public mourning that surrounds his death, we all might benefit from taking stock of these and other questions. Drugs like Xanax, Valium, and Ambien´┐Żnot to mention whatever other prescriptions are eventually revealed to have had a role in this incident´┐Żshould never be used in any way that has not been approved by a physician for a specific purpose. It may be revealed that Mr. Ledger's death was completely accidental and that the possession of so many prescription medications was only a coincidence. But the presence of those drugs in combination does belie a cavalier attitude about pharmaceuticals that permeates much of our society. And Mr. Legder's death could very well come to serve as a reminder of the ultimate tragedy that can be born of such dangerously negligent behaviors.

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