Posts Tagged ‘Prescription drug abuse’

UPDATED: SWALLOW Featured Post: Little Slices of Death

March 12, 2010

Heath Ledger as "The Joker" in 2008's "The Dark Knight"


Sleep Deprivation and the Unholy Trinity of Celebrity Death
by Maxim W. Furek, MA, CAC, ICADC

“Sleep, those little slices of death; Oh how I loathe them.” —Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)

The common denominator connecting the deaths of celebrities Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith and Michael Jackson was prescription drug abuse triggered by chronic sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation is a serious condition that can become deadly. It is one of the most common health complaints, caused by insomnia or sleeplessness, and can lead to impaired mental and physical health. After periods of reduced sleep, brain neurons may begin to malfunction, visibly affecting a person’s behavior. In sleep-deprived subjects, there is no activity in the temporal lobe of the cerebral cortex, which is associated with the processing of language (Ledoux, 2008). Thus, in these individuals, there are signs of slurred speech, stuttering, speaking in a monotone voice or speaking at a slower pace than normal.

Other behavioral changes may include mood changes, such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, or lack of interest or motivation, social or vocational dysfunction, including increased errors or accidents, decreased attention span and tension, headache, or stomach symptoms (Peters, 2009). Extreme anxiety caused by poor sleep patterns may contribute to irrational and dangerous behaviors. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates conservatively that each year drowsy driving is responsible for at least 100,000 automobile crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities (Breus, 2009).

Heath Ledger
Actor Heath Ledger suffered from chronic sleep deprivation. Ledger won critical acclaim for The Patriot, Monster’s Ball and a best actor Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain. Success, however, began to take its toll as a cluster of life stressors contributed to his eventual unraveling. His personal life was also unraveling. Ledger had just ended his relationship with actress Michelle Williams and was involved in a fierce custody dispute over their daughter Matilda.  Ledger, who suffered from chronic insomnia and anxiety, was forced to deal with the additional pressures of success and demands for increased creative output. Too many sleepless nights were coupled with exhausting film shoots, red-carpet events and grueling press campaigns. He told the New York Times in 2007, “Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night. I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.” (CNN,2008). Prior to his tragic overdose the sleep-deprived and physically exhausted actor is believed to have been fighting off effects of walking pneumonia. Ledger died on January 22, 2008, his 28-year-old body discovered in a loft on Broome Street in New York’s SoHo district. The actor died from an accidental overdose of prescription medications, including painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills. The New York City medical examiner’s office determined that “Mr. Heath Ledger died as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine. We have concluded that the manner of death is accident, resulting from the abuse of prescription medications.”



SWALLOW Flashback Featured Post: What Really Killed Anna Nicole Smith?

September 16, 2009

"New York" Magazine (August 22, 1994)


What Really Killed Anna Nicole Smith?
by Maxim W. Furek, MA, CAC, ICADC

On February 8, 2007, the front desk staff at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, FL, made a desperate 911 call: “We need assistance to room 607 at the Hard Rock. It’s in reference to a white female. She’s not breathing and not responsive…actually, it’s Anna Nicole Smith.” Anna Nicole Smith was found lifeless in room 607 after bodyguard Maurice “Big Moe” Brighthaupt called the hotel front desk from Smith’s sixth floor room. Brighthaupt, a trained paramedic, administered CPR before Smith was rushed to Memorial Regional Hospital at 2:10 p.m. The TV reality star and former Playboy Playmate of the Year was pronounced DOA at 2:49 p.m. (, 2007).

After a seven-week investigation, the official death report and autopsy were publicly released. The March 26, 2007, report acknowledged that Smith’s death was not due to homicide, suicide, or natural causes, but was caused by an accidental drug overdose.  During his press conference, Dr. Joshua Perper, Broward County Medical Examiner and Forensic Pathologist, stated that Smith died of “combined drug intoxication,” with the sleeping medication chloral hydrate being the “major component” in her death. No illegal drugs were identified but there were a total of seven prescription drugs, usually prescribed for anxiety, depression and insomnia, found in her bloodstream.  Smith, it was also revealed, had injected herself with shots of Vitamin B-12 (cyanocobalamin) and human growth hormone, as an anti-aging strategy. That brought the total number of substances in her bloodstream to nine.


The Maxim Furek Show: Prescription and OTC Drug Abuse

August 3, 2009

A little over a week ago, I had a chance to attend what I am now respectfully-referring-to as “The Maxim Furek Show”. The occasion was a lecture on the subject of Prescription and OTC Drug Abuse presented by Maxim at the Swartz Center for Spiritual Life on the campus of Marywood University.

If you are working in the recovery field or perhaps even, like myself, are simply interested in the subject matter, I would highly recommend attending one of Maxim’s talks. He is a very engaging speaker, and is able to convey all of the relevant survey and study data without overwhelming.  But most importantly, he knows his stuff.

Though in principal I loathe “litmus tests”, I still (of course) end-up utilizing them, and Maxim passed one of my big ones straight-away.

Namely the “Hillbilly Heroin” myth.  Hillbilly Heroin and Poor Man’s Heroin are some of the ill-applied media-monikers for the opioid analgesic OxyContin which came into use because some of the earliest reports of abuse of the drug had come from rural areas of Appalachia.

The use of this terminology has led some to believe (incorrectly) that OxyContin is cheaper than heroin, and it was interesting—if not a bit shocking—to see how many of those in attendance seemed not to have been aware of this (false) perception.

There were many other interesting revelations of course, and it was clear by the end that most everyone in attendance would be leaving not only armed with the hard stats, but also with a deeper understanding of the complex issues surrounding prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse.

Maxim is also author of the book The Death Proclamation of Generation X: A Self Fulfilling Prophesy of Goth, Grunge and Heroin. I happen to be a member of “America’s 13th Generation”, and I found the book to be incredibly insightful.

If you haven’t read the book yet, I highly recommend it. You can order a copy directly from Maxim’s Garden Walk Recovery website, or online from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.


SWALLOW Flashback: My April ’08 riff on “Hillbilly Heroin”

“Why Don’t You Just Shut the F*ck Up?”

March 16, 2009


These words of wisdom were proffered to me not so long ago by a good friend of mine, Vince. And by good friend I mean someone who will tell you like it is. These types of people are rarer than you might think. Ask yourself how many of your friends fit this description.

What Vince meant by this is, “you have a pretty good life… and a lot to be thankful for… a lot to be grateful for… so quit bitching”. Take a minute, take a breath, and take stock of your own life. I bet you’ll come to pretty much the same conclusion.

Now, pick your chin up and get on with the rest of your day. And don’t forget to shut the fuck up.

Painkiller Epidemic Update: Painkillers Top Choice Among New Illicit Drug Users

September 9, 2008
Initiates for Specific Illicit Drugs among Persons Aged 12 or Older

2007 SAMHSA Study: Initiates for Specific Illicit Drugs among Persons Aged 12 or Older

According to findings from the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), painkillers (OxyContin, MS Contin, Vicodin) are now the top drugs in use initiation” (also known as incidence or first-time use).

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in its 2007 survey, provides a variety of figures related to substance use initiation. Among the 2.7 million persons aged 12 or older surveyed, a staggering 2.1 million reported that the first illicit drugs they used were painkillers.

That figure puts painkillers above marijuana, and far above cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, and all other illicit drugs as “drugs of first use”.

Anyone need further evidence of a Painkiller Epidemic?



Graphic courtesy of SAMHSA.