Wrong drug combination could kill

Thursday, February 7th 2008, 8:00 pm
By: News 9

By Gan Matthews, NEWS 9

The death of actor Heath Ledger is another reminder that drugs can kill; taken singly, or taken in combination.

A medical examiner found several prescription drugs in Ledger's body, including the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone.

A high dosage of any one of them can kill, and they can also prove lethal in combination.

"They can lower their blood pressure, lower their heart rate, cause skeletal muscle relaxation, thus relaxing the diaphragm muscle, can lead to coma and death frankly," pharmacist Tom Bishop said.

Heath Ledger apparently had legal prescriptions from a variety of doctors for all the drugs found in his body.

That's not always the case, as Norman Police determined last summer, when they investigated some questionable hydrocodone prescriptions issuing from a doctor's office in town.

They questioned long-time employee Clara Diane Johnston. She admitted to getting the drugs by an elaborate ruse.

"She would either call in or fax in prescriptions from the doctor's office for fictitious patients, patients who were not actually patients of the practice and then she would go in and pick of the prescriptions herself," Norman Police Captain, Leonard Judy said.

Johnston was charged with obtaining the prescriptions by fraud. She was given a deferred sentence.

In Oklahoma, pharmacists enter every prescription for a controlled substance into a computer database.
They can also access it when they suspect someone is trying to obtain a prescription illegally.

But as the Heath Ledger case shows, even legal prescriptions are no defense against death.

A private funeral for Health Ledger is expected in the next few days in his native Australia.