Tag Archives: Heath Ledger

Conrad Murray a Scapegoat for Over-Prescribing Doctors, the Face of a Drug Industry Run Amok

Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson

What will be the after-effects of Dr. Conrad Murray being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter this week?  It’s easy to assume that his precipitous fall, from being the King of Pop’s private physician to being a convict, will serve as a warning to other doctors-to-the-stars – but the impact should be broader than that. 

You might believe that Michael Jackson, as extremely troubled as he was indulged, was so many light years away from average citizens that he and his personal Dr. Feelgood have nothing to do with us.  But regular Joes and Janes do have parallels to Jackson:  We live in a culture where pharmaceuticals seem to be offered as solutions to every problem, where they’re widely accepted as Answer No. 1 to whatever ails us. 

Conrad Murray is guilty, true, but he’s a scapegoat for all over-prescribing medicos, too – and the face of a prescription drug industry that’s run rampant for decades, especially since the Food and Drug Administration decided to allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise directly to the public in 1998.   Just two years later, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that every dollar that the pharmaceutical industry spent on advertising yielded $4.20 in drug sales.  The result: drugs hyped to the skies!  Nowhere is the absurdity of it all clearer than in the ongoing assault of hideous drug warnings foisted on the television viewing public day and night.  We’ll turn yellow, constipated and have thoughts of suicide?  Lord have mercy.

As with everything in the U.S.A., celebrities lead the way.  If they can sell handbags and cars by virtue of their glamour and panache, goodness knows they can sell drugs.  Even ones we might not need or that might not be good for us.

 It’s sickening to read the list of drugs to which Jackson was addicted and think about how they affected his body in his last months — and that this isn’t a case of speedballs or other illicit drugs such as killed stars like John Belushi and River Phoenix.  Jackson’s drugs were all legal. 

So were the drugs that took the life of Heath Ledger in 2008.  The 28-year-old died after ingesting a lethal cocktail consisting of: OxyContin; Hydrocodone (an ingredient in Vicodin); Diazepam or Valium;  Alprazolan or Xanax; Temazepam or Restoril (prescribed for  insomnia); and Doxylamine, an antihistamine over-the-counter sleep aid sold in the U.S. as Unisom.

In 2007, a combination of prescription and over-the-counter drugs killed Anna Nicole Smith.  Those included three antidepressant or anti-anxiety drugs, plus a sleep medication.

Dorothy Dandridge, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Keith Moon – they all died from overdoses of legal drugs as well.  (Clint Eastwood’s new “J. Edgar” film starring Leonardo DiCaprio shows that even the iconic FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover had some help from a Dr. Feelgood.  It’s the American way.)

In September 1979, Elvis Presley’s private physician, Dr. George Nichopoulos, was charged by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners with “indiscriminately prescribing 5,300 pills and vials for Elvis in the seven months before his death.” He was later acquitted. 

But not Conrad Murray.

Why might this case make more of an impact on society than other similar cases? 

Because it comes at a time when Americans may be reaching a tipping point of annoyance with the overselling of drugs – drugs many can’t afford.  It’s not the array of life-saving modern miracle medications that has people complaining, let’s be clear.  It’s the obvious excesses.  Restless legs and four-hour erections and other problems the public didn’t seem to have a decade ago tell the tale.  Doctors have volunteered that these days, they find themselves talking patients out of medications they’ve seen on TV that aren’t appropriate for them.   A public clamor for change could force advertisers to reach out to consumers in a more conscientious way – less offensive, ridiculous and manipulative.  Prescription medication shouldn’t be treated like magic candy that can make it all better. 

Which brings us back to Michael Jackson.  Sadly, he seems to have thought exactly that. 

 

Ryan Dunn Part of Growing Crowd of Anti-Role Model Celebrities

Ryan Dunn MTV photo

It’s sad, but it could be that the late “Jackass” star Ryan Dunn’s greatest legacy might be as an anti-role model. The daredevil, whose Porsche is said to have been traveling between 132 and 140 miles per hour when it crashed, killing Dunn and passenger Zachary Hartwell last week, had a stunning blood alcohol content of .196, according to a preliminary toxicology report. With an estimated 11 drinks in him before he got behind the wheel, he automatically becomes the poster celebrity for what can happen to you when you drink and drive.

Indeed, Roger Ebert’s notorious tweet — “Friends don’t let Jackasses drink and drive” — over a photo of the horrific remains of that car could serve as an effective public service billboard.

Recent years have, unfortunately, brought us an phalanx of
anti-role model celebrities — who teach us by example what NOT to do.

Two years after Michael Jackson’s death of acute propofol intoxication, his doctor, Conrad Murray, is due to go to trial in September on involuntary manslaughter charges. But certainly, details of Jackson’s gargantuan prescription drug usage that set the stage for the overdose have given people pause.

The same is true of Heath Ledger, who seemed destined to become one of the greatest film actors of our time, until his life was cut short by what the New York City coroner’s office determined was an accidental overdose of  painkillers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs: oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine.

Look out, because, as the late Jeff Conaway pointed out, getting addicted to pain pills can creep up on you.

Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen are just two among the current crop of celebrities who have all but destroyed their careers with wild and sometimes violent behavior — behavior that’s landed each of them behind bars more than once. Lohan and Sheen have each demonstrated how even the most prodigious talents can be thrown away. Let us hope not their lives.

Their poster would have to say something along the lines of “Here’s what excessive partying can do to you, kids.”

Anti-role model celebrities show us so many things — how NOT to divorce (e.g. Madonna and Guy Ritchie), how NOT to parent (Britney Spears), and how NOT to utilize cosmetic surgery (Joan Rivers). The idea of actually looking up to stars sometimes seems positively quaint.