17/03/2010 13:02 | By David Levin, MSN Entertainment

Celebrity prescription drug deaths

Prescription drugs played a part in the deaths of such legends as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Jimi Hendrix, so the lure of popping legal pills is by no means a new phenomenon in Hollywood. But celebrity deaths in which prescription drugs were a factor have increased alarmingly of late, most recently with the loss of 80s heartthrob Corey Haim.

Corey Haim (© PA)

Corey Haim
Famous for his roles in The Lost Boys and License To Drive, Haim was found dead on 10 March, aged 38. The official autopsy result has been deferred pending toxicology tests, but Attorney General Edmund G Brown Jr told CNN the star had bought "thousands of pills" over the years as he struggled with addiction. "If he took all the pills that our records show he was prescribed over the last year and three months, he took some very damaging assaults on his body," he said.

Many of those who knew Corey believe prescription drugs were to blame. Co-star Corey Feldman, who has himself struggled with drug problems, speculated on the cause of death in an interview on Larry King Live following Haim's passing. "This could have been a mixture of drugs," Feldman said. "It could have been a cocktail that's specific or it could also have been the fact that, you know, your body shuts down after years of abuse."

Haim, the Zac Efron or Robert Pattinson of his day, spoke publicly about his battle with addiction in the years before he died. Fellow eighties heartthrob Ralph Macchio, star of Karate Kid, paid tribute on Twitter: "It's always sad and disturbing when addiction and the demons prevail. Rest in peace, Corey Haim."

Brittany Murphy (© PA)

Brittany Murphy
Actress Brittany Murphy died in December 2009 after being found slumped in the shower of her Beverly Hills home. Pneumonia was the primary cause of death but the coroner's report named multiple drug intoxication as a secondary cause.

The autopsy stated the 32-year-old's body had "elevated levels" of four legal drugs: "The pattern of use of these medications suggests treatment of symptoms of a cold or other respiratory infection". The report concluded that the combined effect of the drugs on the ill star could have led to her death: "The possible adverse physiological effects of elevated levels of these medications cannot be discounted, especially in her weakened state."

Murphy was best known for roles in Clueless, 8 Mile and Just Married, and had completed work on upcoming thriller Abandoned when she died.

Heath Ledger (© PA)

Heath Ledger
Australian actor Heath Ledger was found dead in his New York apartment in January 2008, during a break from filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. He was discovered lifeless in bed by his housekeeper and a masseuse.

The medical examiner's report concluded the 28-year-old died from an accidental overdose of legal drugs: "Mr Heath Ledger died as the result of intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine. The manner of death is accident, resulting from the abuse of prescription medications." These drugs are commonly used to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia.

Ledger, famous for his roles in Brokeback Mountain and Dark Knight, left behind a two-year-old daughter, Matilda, whom he had with actress Michelle Williams.

Michael Jackson (© PA)

Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson died of a cardiac arrest in June 2009. He was 50.

Two months after Jackson's passing, the coroner ruled his death was a homicide from a drug overdose. The coroner's report confirmed that the singer had "acute Propofol intoxication", which caused his heart to stop. The powerful sedative is used in surgery and not usually found outside hospitals, but the drug, an IV line and multiple tanks of oxygen were found in Jackson's home, according to the police report. Five other drugs were found in the singer's body.

In February, Jackson's personal physician, Dr Conrad Murray, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, a charge he has denied. If convicted, he could be jailed for four years.

Among the countless stars that paid tribute to Michael Jackson was Madonna who said simply: "I can't stop crying over the sad news. The world has lost one of the greats, but his music will live on forever."

Anna Nicole Smith (© PA)

Anna Nicole Smith
Glamour model and actress Anna Nicole Smith died in her room at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Florida in February 2007. She was 39 years old.

The coroner ruled her death was due to an accidental drug overdose of the sleeping medication chloral hydrate, which became lethal when combined with four of the other drugs in her body. In all, nine different prescription drugs contributed to her death.

The Broward County Medical Examiner later confirmed that eight of the 11 drugs found in the hotel room were prescribed to Smith's boyfriend, attorney Howard K Stern, including the sedative that was the primary cause of death.

Addictions on the rise
In recent years, an increasing number of stars have also received treatment for prescription drug addiction. These include Eminem, Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler, and Robbie Williams, who said his addiction to painkillers nearly killed him. "You get to the point that far into your addiction, you're not bothered whether you live or die, because that's where it takes you," Robbie told The Sun recently. "I was on my way out. I might have been a couple of days or 24 hours from dying." The singer has been clean since receiving treatment at an Arizona clinic in 2007.

Mary Rieser, Executive Director for Narconon Drug Rehab, said many celebrities with addictions don't believe they have a problem. "They start using prescription drugs, get addicted, and then hide this fact. If they are a celebrity with a lot of influence, it is, in many cases, difficult to convince them they are not invincible and will die if they don't get rehab help.

"Look at the talent we have lost recently - Michael Jackson, DJ AM, Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith - had someone taken the steps to get them help, they might still be around today."

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The views in this column are those of the author alone and not of MSN/Microsoft

21/06/2011 13:36













24/03/2010 15:16
Doctors prescribe whatever they consider safe for relevant treatments. You can't blame a doctor for all the times people ignore the "only take 1 a day" or "do not take medication that is not prescribed for you" labels. People can make a safe prescribed dose dangerous by taking all of it at once or mixing it with drugs the doctor didn't give them - read the bit about Anna Nicole Smith and you will notice 8 of the drugs she took were not prescribed to her - so how can a doctor be blamed for what people do when they leave the surgery!?
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