Medical Examiner

Safe Living: Drug Abuse

DEADLY COCKTAILS - STREET DRUGS, PRESCRIPTION DRUGS, AND ALCOHOL

Drug abuse kills people, but not just illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. Too much prescription medication, or certain combinations of prescription medications, or the mixing of prescription medications and alcohol, can kill you also. Drugs can also impair your ability to drive a motor vehicle and cause you to crash, seriously injuring yourself or other people.

Do not use illegal drugs. Taking illegal drugs is a gamble, because you never know when an illegal drug will cause your heart to go into a fatal rhythm. Because illegal drugs are not controlled, the concentration or dose of the illegal drugs you may be taking is not known, nor is it known if it is the actual substance it is purported to be, nor is it known what the drug is mixed with. Moreover, small doses of illegal drugs have been known to kill even experienced users.

Doctors cannot predict when the next hit of a drug will be fatal. Fortunately, fatalities are fairly uncommon. Most deaths resulting from illegal drugs are not overdoses, but are caused by the body simply having a bad reaction to the drug. Don't take the gamble. Your next hit may kill you, even if it is the "normal" or "expected" amount that you think your body is used to. Help is available to stop drug abuse.

The chart below shows which illegal drugs are detected most often in people we autopsied who died here in Travis County in 2009. Although marijuana generally does not cause death from its intoxicating qualities, it does impair judgment, and should never be used when operating a motor vehicle or doing any other activity that requires the exercise of judgment. The other drugs listed: heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine are unpredictable killers. These deaths are preventable.

Do not abuse prescription drugs.

Do not mix prescription drugs and alcohol.

Overuse of prescription drugs or the mixture of prescription drugs and alcohol can put you into a coma that can lead to death. Take prescription medications only as prescribed by your doctor. Do not take medications that are not prescribed to you. If you have more than one doctor, be sure that all of your doctors know what medications your other doctors have you on. If you are not sure, ask your doctor or their nurse.

In many cases of prescription medication deaths, it is not an overdose of a medication, but rather the additive side effect of multiple medications that cause the death. An example would be mixing pain medications with muscle relaxants and medications that relieve anxiety. Each medication individually may be OK to take, but in combination, they may put you into a coma. These deaths are preventable.

The chart below shows which prescription medications are most commonly detected in people we autopsied that died in Travis County in 2009.

The chart below shows which illegal and legal drugs are most commonly involved in drug overdoses here in Travis County when drugs and alcohol are mixed.

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Last Modified: Friday, January 11, 2013 2:06 PM