With the recent passing of Whitney Houston, I felt the need to warn about the dangers of prescription medications. While we do not know her actual cause of death, nor should we speculate thereon, the media’s insistence on disclosing that she had a number of prescription medications in her hotel room is of significance.
For the first time in history, prescription medications have now surpassed illicit drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, as the leading cause of drug-associated deaths. Deaths associated with prescription drugs have tripled in the last 10 years. Prescription drugs are not inherently dangerous if taken as prescribed under the direction of a physician. The problem is that patients take the drugs in quantities not prescribed, or without a proper indication. These medications, when mixed with alcohol, are particularly dangerous, and can be deadly for a variety of reasons.
Narcotics – Morphine, MS Contin, Dilaudid, Fentanyl, Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Percocet, Codeine, Methadone. Demerol: These drugs are pain-killers with various analgesic intensities. They are all, independently, excellent painkillers, and are sometimes used in combination. At increased doses, taking into account that different people have different tolerances, these medications can be deadly. They can cause respiratory depression (meaning you can stop breathing) and they can have significant effects on cardiac conduction (meaning you can have abnormal heart rhythms). Both these side effects are considered toxicities, and can lead to death in otherwise healthy individuals.
Benzodiazepines – Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Librium: This class of drug is notorious for causing respiratory depression at high doses. The other dangerous effect with benzodiazepines is that stopping them suddenly, if previously on a high dose, can lead to seizures.
Each drug has its own individual side effect and, when combined with others, the cumulative effects can potentiate or accelerate those side effects. Mixing alcohol with these meds is a cocktail for death, especially in the setting of chronic liver disease.
So, the bottom line is, IF you have to take any of these meds, you should only be taking them short term, as prescribed by your physician; and PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, scrupulously avoid alcohol while taking them.