Like many celebrities, Heath Ledger died too soon. The Hollywood actor should be enjoying his family and career. He may have even reprised his role as the Joker in The Dark Night. But a lethal combination of doctor-prescribed drugs killed him in January 2008.
The New York City Medical Examiner ruled the death an accidental overdose, noting that toxicology tests found oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine in his system.
Opiates & Benzodiazepines
Opiates are narcotic drugs that contain opium or an opium derivative. Benzodiazepines form a large family of medications that include such drugs as Ativan, Klonopin, Xanax and Valium. Doctors prescribe these medications to control anxiety, as a sedative or as a muscle relaxer. According to an analysis conducted by the Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services for Central Ohio.com, people frequently take drugs such as Xanax and Valium in conjunction with Percocet and Vicodin.
This can be risky for many people because opiates and benzos can depress the central nervous system. Meaning, you could just stop breathing and not wake up.
Benzodiazepines were named in over 300 death certificates in 2010, according to the Department of Health and were detected in 19 percent of overdose victims that same year. These drugs are prone to cause a physical dependence and people tend to build a tolerance to them rather quickly.
Risks of Combining Benzos and Opiates
People often misuse Benzodiazepines or take them with other medications, according to Orman Hall, director of Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services. He also said that people who abuse opiates often take benzos too. Using them in the same day can be risky. Using them at the same time can be deadly.
Benzodiazepines can amplify the feelings of euphoria brought on by opiates. Because both drugs are sedative in nature, there is a greater risk for those who abuse the two to slip into unconsciousness and possibly die. If these drugs are combined, increasing the CNS depressant effect, they can cause slowed breathing, heart rate and respiration, all which have the potential to be fatal.
Many physicians with experience in pain management and anxiety find the combination of these two types of drugs too risky. But people with persistent pain are often in need of some sort of sedative – either to relax or sleep. So what is the answer to this dilemma? Reach out for professional help if you are abusing these meds, which can include detox. If you have pain and anxiety issues, try to find other ways to manage them.
If pain is the primary issue, there are plenty of alternative therapies and other activities that can help you with the anxiety. These include counseling, massage, acupuncture, relaxation, yoga and exercise. There are ways to manage these issues without putting your health and life on the line.