Ignorance blamed for prescription drug deaths

Better medical oversight could help prevent fatal overdoses, doctors say

MSNBC—February 8, 2008

Ignorance — not intent — is likely the cause of drug overdose deaths that claim the famous and not-so-famous equally, doctors frustrated with the problem of multiple medications said.

On the heels of actor Heath Ledger’s death last month from the effects of six painkillers and sedatives, U.S. Army medical experts said they’re also investigating a series of similar overdoses among wounded and recovering soldiers.

The incidents are accidental, officials insist. But they've raised questions among skeptics who wonder how ingesting a half-dozen powerful prescription medications could be anything but intentional.

It shouldn’t be surprising, said Dr. Edward V. Craig, an attending surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Many patients, particularly older people suffering from multiple health problems, may take six or seven medications to combat their symptoms. Even young people may accumulate a considerable pharmacopoeia.

“I see people come in and they’re on 10 or 12 medications,” said Craig. “A surprising number of people are on over-the-counter or herbal medications as well.”

Many patients get medications from several doctors, often with little oversight or advice about interaction, the experts said. In addition, too many patients pay too little attention to the type of drugs they’re taking.

Read the full story on MSNBC.com.

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