Where were you when you found out Kurt Cobain died? News of drug abuse and overdose has been increasing in the media as of late. Many of us may know, either personally or professionally, someone suffering from drug or alcohol addiction who has died. However, not all drug and alcohol deaths are addiction related. In fact, there are several instances of non-abusers mixing substances such as alcohol and prescription medications which then result in death. Some of the following cautions may seem like common sense, but let’s review combinations of drugs that can lead to death. Here are some deadly drug cocktails.
Alcohol mixed with opioid painkillers, sedatives, sleeping pills, benzodiazepines (benzos), or stimulants can be deadly. While each of these medications contain warnings, many people ignore the risk and pair alcohol with them. Alcohol is a natural central nervous system depressant. When combined with drugs that suppress the nervous system, alcohol adds to the effect and slows down breathing. Breathing can stop entirely, or slow down so much that the brain is deprived of oxygen. Cory Monteith is an example of a celebrity who overdosed from combining alcohol and an illegal drug, heroin.
Cocaine is actually used as a topical anesthetic for eye, ear, nose, or throat surgery or procedures. Used as a stimulant, it’s dangerous. It has high abuse potential along with other stimulants like amphetamine and methamphetamine. Mixed with opiates, ecstasy (MDMA- a stimulant), or alcohol, cocaine can be even more life threatening. Combining stimulants over activates the sympathetic nervous system, leading to possible cardiac arrhythmia, hypertension, seizure, heart collapse, and death. Don’t use cocaine at all and certainly avoid combining it with other drugs.
Late actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman died from an overdose of cocaine combined with heroin, benzos, and amphetamine. Although he was battling with addiction, remember that these events can happen to first time users as well.
Prescription medicine combinations
Prescription combinations seem to be the most common in pop culture references, and in the media. Many celebrities have died due to drug-drug interactions from taking multiple prescription medications. One celebrity that comes to mind is the late actor, Heath Ledger. Ledger’s deadly cocktail consisted of opioids, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medication, and other prescription drugs.
Brittany Murphy is a well-known actress who passed away after having suffered from pneumonia. However, traces of prescription vicoprofen (an opioid pain reliever) and cold medicine were also found in her blood. These two medications along with an iron deficiency seem to have led to a heart attack.
Here is a short list of risky drug combinations:
- Benzos, opioids, sleeping pills (slowed breathing)
- Multiple opioids (slowed breathing)
- Tylenol #3 and over-the-counter Tylenol (acetaminophen overdose)
- Warfarin and aspirin (bleeding)
- Lisinopril and potassium (heart rhythm dysfunction)
If you’re going to use multiple prescription medications such as those listed above, consult your physician on the risks of doing so. Avoid using alcohol with prescription, or over the counter medications, and certainly with illicit drugs. Chronic pain can be grueling and before you self-treat with drugs of your choice, consult a pain specialist. There are many treatments available that can improve your life.
Remember, no one is immune to pain, but together we can overcome it.