(NaturalNews) When handsome and talented young actor Heath Ledger died last winter, the New York City medical examiner's autopsy report revealed his death was due to an unintentional life-ending cocktail of prescription drugs, including anti-anxiety medications Alprazolam (Xanax), Diazepam (Valium) and Lorazepam (Ativan), the sleeping pill Zopiclone (Lunesta) and the sedative Temazepam (Restoril), which is also used for insomnia.
So this was just one of those rare tragedies that mostly happens to troubled or hard living Hollywood stars, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, people from all walks of life are dying by the thousands across the U.S. due to prescription drugs. And a new study, Florida's annual report on Drugs Identified in Deceased Persons, dramatically illustrates this truth.
Relying on autopsies performed in 2007, the state report concludes prescription drugs (anti-anxiety benzodiazepines, the muscle relaxer carisoprodol and all opioids, excluding heroin) continue to be found in both lethal and non-lethal amounts in the dead far more often than illicit drugs.
The bottom line: the rate of deaths in Florida caused by prescription drugs is over three times as high as the rate of deaths caused by all illicit drugs combined.
The study shows 2,328 Floridians died of opiate, or painkiller, overdoses while another 743 lost their lives from over-consuming benzodiazepines, which include the drugs Valium and Xanax. On the other hand, about a third less number of people, 989, died of overdoses from illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine ("speed").
In a statement for the press, Bill James, Director of Florida's Office of Drug Control, said: "Prescription drugs are not safe and must be secured. Doctors and pharmacists must help law enforcement identify and stop doctor shoppers. We are also looking for ways to curb illegal internet sales. Only through a comprehensive, coordinated strategy will we be able to reverse this tragic, unacceptable trend."
That's a nice goal and it is true some people abuse prescription drugs. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration states as many as 7 million Americans are abusing prescription medication -- far more people than those using cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, Ecstasy and inhalants combined.
And the truth is, even when legal medications are taken as prescribed, they are too often dangerous and even deadly. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), an estimated 1.9 million adverse drug reactions occur each year, and up to 180,000 of them could be life threatening or even fatal.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released data showing that at least half of all Americans take one prescription drug and one in six of us takes three or even more prescribed medications. And this love affair with pharmaceuticals for health problems is no doubt why prescription drug deaths are now the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease, cancer and stroke.
About the author
Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA’s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic’s "Men’s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.