Prescription Medications: Bane of the Stars

In the celebrity world, it used to be heroin, cocaine and other hard drugs that were responsible for the deaths of drug addled stars. Sid Vicious, Janis Joplin, and River Phoenix to name but a few. For the last few years however, drug-induced trips to an early grave have taken on a more ‘legal’ appearance, in the form of highly addictive prescription drugs. Painkillers, and in particular benzodiazepines; such as Xanax, Valium (primarily anti-anxiety medications) and the many other types we see listed on toxicology reports.

It isn’t just celebrities however. A recent report by ABC News suggests there is a growing trend amongst everyday people who are steadily becoming reliant on prescription drugs. In particular, a group of mothers who claim such medications make them better parents. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? If we’re all aware of the dangers of addiction, and the very real risk of being sent to an early grave – why all the pill poppin’?

Lest We Forget

The list of benzo-related celebrity deaths in the last few years is ever growing, and has stolen some fantastic talent from our screens and stereos. More recently troubled singer Amy Winehouse (who’s death was ruled primarily as alcohol poisoning, but benzos were also noted in her toxicology) and just last year Whitney Houston, who drowned in a Beverly Hilton bathtub after overdosing on a variety of drugs, including Xanax.

Other names in recent years include Britney Murphy in 2009, Heath Ledger who died in 2008, Anna Nicole Smith in 2007, and rocker ‘The Rev’, who passed away in 2009. All of them were found to have a variety of drugs in their systems, including benzodiazepines. Most sensationally Michael Jackson died in 2009 after Propofol intoxication, but the possibility of anti-anxiety medication being a contributing factor was not entirely ruled out either.

Why?

Addiction and celebrity status seem to go hand in hand; it’s nothing if not a cliché. The phrase ‘Too much of a good thing is bad for you’ is probably the best way to rationalise why many turn to such substances in the first place. Many struggle to cope with the success and wealth, discovering that it causes a string of new problems in place of the old ones; consequently burdening their lives, rather than enhancing them. Naturally drugs and alcohol can provide an escape from those darker moments, at least until addiction takes over.

With addictive prescription medications however, such as anti-anxiety drug Xanax, those who wouldn’t necessarily have a propensity towards taking drugs are exposed to them – and with that, the potential to become addicted. It’ll be of no surprise that many stars that have died of prescription drug overdoses started taking them as they genuinely needed them, before reliance and eventual addiction took over. And it seems no celebrity is exempt; even Octomom did her time in rehab last year for a Xanax detox.

Whether you’re an A-lister or a Z-lister, celebrity doctors are often more prepared to give their patients what they want, rather than what they need. The risks of benzodiazepines have been bought to light even more since Whitney’s death, and their pretty dangerous things when not monitored properly and used over a substantial period of time. With the obvious potential for a patient to become reliant, and eventually addicted; the negative health implications whilst on and coming off the drug (for example even during the three to six month withdrawal, patients have a hightened risk of seizure) are less than desirable. Some, but not all studies have linked benzos to a higher mortality rate. However in the case of many celebrity deaths (and those of everyday people of course) they’re usually just one ingredient of a cocktail of drugs, prescription or otherwise.

We live in a culture where taking a pill seems to be the answer for almost everything. Depressed? Take a pill. Can’t sleep? Take a pill. Anxious? Take a pill. Granted, some people genuinely do need and benefit legitimately from such medication; however it’s likely than many don’t have to go down that route at all. When you pair the ‘pill popping’ and ‘quick fix’ cultures of today, it would seem masking the symptoms of a problem with medication seems to be a far more attractive alternative than dealing with the underlying cause head on. For the less than ethical Hollywood Doctors, that would also seem to be the case, too.

Let’s hope it changes – lest anymore talent becomes legendary before it’s time.

 

 

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Written by: Jennifer Yeoman

 

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