Published January 23, 2008
Though it likely will be some time before anyone knows definitively what killed Heath Ledger, he wouldn't be the first young Hollywood actor to fall victim to drugs.
An autopsy on the 28-year-old was performed Wednesday and came back inconclusive, the New York City Medical Examiner reported. Toxicology results could take up to 10 days to come back. Prescription drugs, including sleeping pills, were found in the actor's SoHo apartment, police said.
Dr. Manny Alvarez, managing editor of health for FOXNews.com, said abuse of prescription drugs is on the rise and Ledger's death may be another example of this growing problem.
"It happens to millions of people every day in this country, but they're not famous like this guy so you don’t hear anything about it," he said.
A federally funded study released in December found that while use of illicit drugs by teens is down, use of prescription drugs is up. The study, by University of Michigan researchers, found that one in every 20 high school seniors had at least tried OxyContin.
And, while the popularity of the painkiller Vicodin has remained constant, use of sedatives, tranquilizers and narcotic drugs other than heroin are on the rise, the study found.
Alvarez said young people in their teens and 20s are more susceptible to overdosing on prescription drugs because they metabolize medication differently than older adults.
"If an older person takes Valium, they’re going to experience greater side effects than a younger person," he said. "And because a younger person doesn’t experience as strong of a side effect, they might keep taking more and more until they overdose because they don’t realize how it’s affecting them."