Mixing Medication, Heath Ledger, and What You Should Know

by Florence Cardinal Patient Expert

I wrote an article earlier mentioning that the sleeping medication Ambien was found near the body of actor Heath Ledger. I speculated at the time that perhaps an overdose of Ambien had caused his death.

Official investigation revealed that, although Ambien was absent in the actor's body, there was a mix of half a dozen other sleep medications, pain killers and anti-anxiety medications present.

These medications are usually safe if taken in the recommended dosage. However, if dosage is increased, or if some pills are mixed with other pills, they can become lethal. The most dangerous are opioids (pain killers) that affect the central nervous system.

Make sure you let your doctor know of all other medications, including over-the-counter and herbal remedies, when you are getting a new prescription. Never increase the amount you're taking without talking with your doctor. Never take medicines prescribed for other patients or give yours to someone else.

Discuss with your doctor or pharmacist everything you need to know about the drugs you are taking. Is it dangerous to drink alcohol while taking them? Are there other medications you should avoid?

Herbal remedies are used to treat disorders that keep you awake, like insomnia. Herbal remedies are also used as stimulants to combat excessive daytime sleepiness, or even just to give a boost when energy begins to wilt.

There are several herbal sedatives available, including valerian, hops, passion flower and German chamomile. These herbs seem to have few side effects, although chamomile is a member of the daisy family, and anyone who suffers from allergies should avoid it.

Kava kava, another sedative, is a different story. Do not take Kava Kava when using other substances that act on the brain, such as alcohol, barbiturates, or other mood-altering drugs. It may increase their effect. Be especially wary of taking it with the tranquilizer Xanax; the combination has caused coma.

Another danger, like with kava kava, is herbal interactions with prescription drugs. Some herbal remedies counteract the benefits you are supposed to receive from your prescription medications. Other herbal remedies increase the effects of the drugs, and this can be very dangerous, especially in the case of medication for sleeping.

Always check with both your doctor and either an accredited herbalist or holistic practitioner before mixing prescription drugs and herbal remedies.

Always be aware of what you are taking and how it will affect your body and mind. If you're unsure, talk it over with your doctor. Medication should help health problems, not cause more.

Florence Cardinal
Meet Our Writer
Florence Cardinal

Florence wrote for HealthCentral as patient expert for Sleep Disorders.