Today, more than 34 million people in the United States regularly abuse drugs. These choices are spurred by a combination of economic condition, lifestyle, stress, poverty, upbringing, and even genetics. Popular lifestyle and the glamorization of the lives of the rich and famous, where drug use and alcohol abuse are common, can also contribute to wider acceptance of drugs.
But, even celebrities with money to ensure their health and high-quality substances often suffer and die from drug and substance use. While over the long-term, celebrities like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morison have all died because of illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin, prescription drugs are more recently to blame for many overdoses. For example, Prince, Michael Jackson, Tom Petty, and many others overdosed because of prescription drugs, some of which were used illicitly.
Prince overdosed in April of 2016, following an extended hospital visit and several public reports of his prescription drug use. Prince first overdosed on a flight, which took an emergency landing, where Prince was rushed to a hospital and administered Naloxone. Prince’s associates attempted to move the star into a rehabilitation facility. Before doing so, Prince was found dead in his home, the toxicology report ruling a fentanyl overdose.
While Prince was taking increasingly large doses of prescription medication for his health problems, a police investigation revealed Prince might not have been aware of what he was taking. The singer was found with mislabeled pill bottles as well as bottles labelled to other names, which may have resulted in him accidentally taking a much stronger medication than the Percocet he was prescribed.
Heath Ledger rose to fame early in his youth, and suffered from problems relating to anxiety, sleeplessness, and insomnia. His prescription medication, which included Ambien, was supposed to help. However, Ledger developed tolerance, admitted to self-medicating and increasing the dose, and eventually switched to stronger medications. In 2008, the star of the then-recent “The Dark Knight” was found dead of combined drug toxicity, a coroner’s report showing oxycodone, hydrocodone, alprazolam, diazepam, temazepam, and doxylamine in his system.
Heath Ledger’s accidental overdose likely resulted from the 28-year-old-actor's attempts to induce sleep or calm after tolerance reduced the effectiveness of his drugs, resulting in toxicity and death.
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Phillip Seymour Hoffman died of acute drug overdose, with a mix of heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines found in his blood. The 46-year-old-actor, who had spent years in recovery helping others, was also found with a large quantity of what was believed to be heroin. His overdose, which was ruled an accident, likely resulting from tolerance. Hoffman’s drug “cocktail” is a process known as stacking, which some people use to increase effects of substances as tolerance grows. However, it also often influences breathing and causes respiratory depression, resulting in death.
Anna Nicole Smith
Anna Nicole Smith rose to international notoriety after her death in 2007, when her trial made international headlines. The 39-year-old actress and model was found overdosing in her hotel room in Florida, but was unable to be revived. A later toxicology report showed a combination of drugs in her system, primarily the sleeping medication chloral hydrate, alongside the benzodiazepine class drugs diazepam, oxazepam, lorazepam, and clonazepam. She had previously taken methadone, although this was ruled as non-contributing. In addition, Smith’s growth hormone injections may have contributed to her death.
Anna Nicole Smith’s use of prescription medication was illicit and outside of prescription, most likely for recreational or self-medication use. Most of the prescription medications were made out to friends rather than herself and she had taken them in significantly larger quantities than prescribed.
Whitney Houston is among the most popular artists of all time, but still died of a drug overdose. Houston was found alone in her bathtub in February of 2012. After a brief police investigation, the toxicology report showed her cause of death was drowning after loss of consciousness relating to cocaine interacting with her heart condition (atherosclerotic heart disease).
Houston’s behavior had been called into question for several days previous to her death, with onlookers describing her as “erratic” and “disheveled”. The toxicology report also showed evidence of longer-term drug use, including Benadryl, Xanax, Flexeril, and cannabis.
Michael Jackson died in his home of cardiac arrest at a pivotal point in his career, with sold-out shows, and a possible come-back open to him. The singer, who suffered sleeping problems and multiple physical and mental health problems, died of cardiac arrest in his bed. The toxicology report later linked the death to a propofol overdose, in combination with medications including lorazepam and midazolam. While Jackson took medications prescribed and administered by his doctor, the administering doctor was later indicted for involuntary manslaughter after his own testimony stated he gave in to Jackson’s demands for more of the drug to aid his sleeping.
Scott Weiland, singer for rock bands including the Stone Temple Pilots, died of an overdose on his tour bus in 2015. The singer, who had notoriously recovered and relapsed several times, had been in recovery for nearly 13 years. After his relapse, Weiland was seen drinking and using drugs. His toxicology report shows an overdose of cocaine, alcohol, and MDA, which likely resulted in respiratory depression and death in combination with his history of asthma and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
Lil Peep, an American rap artist, overdosed on fentanyl and alprazolam at the age of 21. The artist, who had recently risen to fame, was notable for his promotion of drugs and drug use. His Instagram posts included claims of taking 6 Xanax pills in the hours before his death, alongside other psychotic drugs including phycobilin mushrooms. Lil Peep overdoses on his tour bus, with tests showing traces of cannabis, cocaine, tramadol, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone.
Mac Millar was an American rapper who overdoses in 2018 at the age of 26. The singer, who had a history of driving under the influence and legal issues relating to substance use, was found in his tour bus suffering from an overdose. After an unsuccessful attempt at revival, Miller was proclaimed dead. Toxicology reports showed a fatal overdose resulting from a combination of alcohol, fentanyl, and cocaine.
Amy Winehouse was notorious for her substance abuse and health problems. The singer, who had suffered through numerous traumatic incidents in her personal life, struggled with drinking, and, despite rehab, relapsed shortly before her death. Winehouse was found dead in 2011, her death subsequently ruled misadventure due to acute alcohol toxicity, with blood alcohol content at nearly 5 times the legal driving limit. Winehouse had struggled with substance abuse alongside mental health problems for most of her life, and moved in and out of rehab several times before her death.
While celebrity drug and alcohol related deaths make the news and are often well-known, thousands of people suffer from similar overdoses every year. In the USA, over 70,000 people died of overdose in 2017 alone, with many overdoses linked to opioids like fentanyl.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, it’s important to get help. A modern drug rehab program with effective therapeutic care can help you to build the skills and coping mechanisms to recover from the mental and physical effects of drug addiction. It is possible to live a happy and healthy life without substances, and anyone struggling with addiction deserves that chance.