Ledger's Death Sheds Light on 'Polypharmacy'

Self-medicating with multiple drugs like 'having a loaded gun'
By Sam Gale Rosen,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 12, 2008 10:11 PM CST
Actor Heath Ledger attends a special Cinema Society and Hogan hosted screening of "I'm Not There" at the Chelsea West Cinemas, in this Nov. 13, 2007, file photo in New York. The NYC medical examiner reports...   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – Before you take two of anything, make sure you're acting on doctor's orders experts say. In the wake of Heath Ledger's death by accidental overdose, USA Today probes the dangers of polypharmacy, or taking multiple drugs at once. "It's extraordinarily dangerous for people to try to self-medicate," says a DEA spokeswoman. "It's like having a loaded gun."

Doctors and pharmacists should be able to head off harmful interactions, but patients sometimes get prescriptions from different places. "Certainly, there are less-scrupulous doctors who will prescribe in patterns not healthy for patients," says a pharmacology professor. "But sometimes the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing."