Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Heath Ledger: What we need to know


Jami Floyd
"In Session" Anchor/360 Contributor



Yesterday the actor Heath Ledger, most famous for his Oscar-nominated role in "Brokeback Mountain," was found dead in his New York City apartment. He was just 28 years old.

And of course we won't know what killed him until more tests come back... the autopsy was "inconclusive," but here's what we do know: Police are calling it a possible prescription drug overdose. No signs of foul play, and a bottle of sleeping pills reportedly found. No illegal narcotics found in the room, though.

And here's what else we know: prescription drugs are the second most abused drug among teens after pot. Not cocaine, not meth, not heroin, legal drugs prescribed by medical professionals.

So the police may be saying no signs of foul play in Heath Ledger's death, but I want to know, if he overdosed, what the names of the doctors on any little brown bottles found at the scene are. Let's hope Heath's death is not the last word.


Check out more Jami Floyd blogs on 'In Session'

Posted By CNNBLOG: 6:24 PM ET
  18 Comments
There are several kinds of pills involved in this death. What is odd to me is that a person can go to five different doctors and mix those pills together to get a lethal dose. Even if accidentally taken, isn't there some way to monitor prescriptions so that a person can't have such a dangerous mix?
Posted By Anonymous Diane , Providence , R, I. : 6:49 PM ET
Prescription drugs, meds, whatever you want to call them, are still drugs. Drugs that some people need, but many more abuse.
I think most people have a false sense of safety and a false reality that they aren't addicted to their meds.
Just because something is legal, doesn't make it safe. The medical profession hands out drugs like candy. I know some people need treatment, but how many get a prescription in a heartbeat when they don't require it.

Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif.
Posted By Blogger Lorie Ann : 6:54 PM ET
Jami,
I'm with you! For too long doctors have given out these drugs that aren't needed and people die from it. There needs to be someone held accountable for these people's deaths.

But there is a problem with that. How can it really be proven that the deceased person took the drug to get high, or just took too much trying to get relief. There is no sure fire way to prove that. I mean someone could take some drug for the first time and die. Should the doctor be held accountable for that?

Cynthia, Covington, Ga.
Posted By Blogger Cindy : 7:02 PM ET
Jami,

I must say that I think your comments are premature, to say the very least, and somewhat inappropriate. It has barely been twenty four hours since Heath Ledger's untimely death and already we are conducting a post-mortem. Can we just take a breath, pause and remember this man who was possessed of such an extraordinary gift?

To say I was a fan of Heath Ledger's would be an understatement. He touched me as no other actor has with his timeless performance as Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain. He inspired me to write again. He helped me find my passion. That is what I want to remember and treasure. I also want to remember his shyness, commitment to his craft, intelligence, wit, sensitivity and humbleness. This is what we should be talking about here.

Please, for the sake of this truly extraordinary young man, let's put aside the what ifs, should haves, could haves, would haves, and cautionary tales and just celebrate a life that ended far too soon.
Posted By Anonymous Mindy Chatsworth, Ca. : 7:03 PM ET
Whoa Jami,
You want the names of the doctors who prescribed the meds?
Sorry but I highly doubt that the prescription read," down the whole bottle before a massage."
I've know addicts. They go from doctor to doctor and pharmacy to pharmacy to get drugs.
I get it that some not so good doctors over-medicate and get people addicted to drugs but overdose?
At what point do we hold ourselves accountable for our own actions?

Betty Ann
Nacogdoches,TX
Posted By Blogger Betty Ann : 7:07 PM ET
Hi Jami, Heath Ledger's death is so sad. I didn't know him as a person but I heard that he was kind, down-to-earth, unassuming, and nice to everyone he met, even complete strangers. I saw a CNN.com reader comment that Heath helped him change a flat tire! He didn't even know the guy! What a shame that this world lost such a sweet person.

I heard that his drug overdose might have been accidental? Right now, I just don't see why he would take his life on purpose. Also, if the overdose was accidental, I don't think the doctors would be held accountable, right? They tell their patients that a certain amount should be taken, nothing more; but if the patient didn't follow instructions for whatever reason, that's not the doctor's fault, IMO only.

Thanks, Jami.

Lilibeth
Edmonds, Washington
Posted By Blogger Lilibeth : 7:13 PM ET
Well what would help is if people and the media did not speculate when no answers are available. It is exploiting a tragedy and for no reason. Until someone does know exactly what happens, crude speculation of overdose is irresponsible and cruel to his family and friends. No one knows anything except that he is dead and young. If it is established that he died due to drugs, then everyone can preach about drug abuse. Until then, give the guy's family a break. He was never a tabloid party boy. He should not be treated as a drug user now.
Posted By Blogger FAMLAW : 7:40 PM ET
Let's get all the facts in about this young man's death before we make assumptions and go on a witch hunt. At this point really all we know is that a very talented man lost his life, nothing is conclusive and prescription med bottles were found in his room. (I'm sure prescription medicine bottles are in a lot of people's bedrooms-I have a cabinet with seven in my kitchen that my docs have knowingly prescribed for everything from allergies to high blood pressure). And I imagine if I took one too many of those together (as many people do thinking it won't hurt them but instead help because one didn't) I might end up dead, and no one would be to blame. We don't always know how our bodies will interact to meds. We just don't. Maybe we need to do more to understand how bodies interact to all the chemicals we ingest to get or stay healthy. Maybe docs need to monitor what we take from everyone better (mine do, and I still don't think it's foolproof). Maybe we need to follow the prescription to the "t" when many of us don't. Maybe we just need to know that a two-year old little girl lost a daddy who apparently loved her beyond beyond, parents lost an only son, a sister lost her only brother, and the world is a little less bright because it lost a good soul that can never be replaced. And most importantly, maybe we'll never know what really happened to Heath Ledger, he does, and that should be enough of an answer for us all.
Posted By Anonymous Tammy, Berwick, LA : 8:05 PM ET
Jami,

Heath Ledger seemed much like his namesake, Heathcliff, the brooding hero from "Wuthering Heights." I loved his beautiful portrayal of Ennis Del Mar in "Brokeback Mountain."

Gary Tuchman's report on Heath and his death was respectful and well done. I know that the media will cover this story ad nauseam because Heath was a celebrity, but I hope that 360 and other members of the media will hold the coverage to a minimum in respect for his family. Although I thought Heath was a gifted actor and I enjoyed his films,
I do not feel the need, nor do I have the right to invade his or his family's privacy.

If it is found that Heath did indeed die of a drug overdose then it should be investigated and talked about, but let's not speculate about his death at this time. We should let the family grieve in peace.

Jo Ann
North Royalton, Ohio
Posted By Blogger Jo Ann : 8:21 PM ET
I have read and heard that he wasn't able to sleep well from playing the Joker in the dark adaptation of Batman. The character had consumed him. Of course he will be remembered for consuming characters and being a incredible actor. He was also very shy and did not like the publicity side of the movie business. He suffered from anxiety. He needed help for every interview he did. I know that Ambien is a very dangerous drug. It alters and lowers brain waves/activity. When I can't sleep I can't function. I take medication to sleep and other psychiactric meds. Don't tell Tom. When you are that exhausted you might wake up and take another pill and/or mix it with alcohol. Take more of one than normal and have a bad chemical reaction plus total exhaustion. I'm sure it was a horrible mistake. He just wanted to sleep. I am still in shock he was amazing.
Posted By Anonymous Heather, Murrieta Ca : 8:41 PM ET
Jami,

If Heath did "overdose" on medications, prescription or OTC, it doesn't necessarily mean it was intentional. Nor does it necessarily mean he took a massive amount.

It is always assumed that overdose means a great number when it doesn't. Mix two meds, no matter how mild and you may well have made your own prescription for something very serious.

Pharmacies usually ask about other meds , and OTC's that may cause a problem are advised against. Don't they do that everywhere?

Maggie C
Posted By Anonymous Maggie, GVMO : 9:10 PM ET
Anna Nicole and Heath Ledger were in similar situations. Doctors were just writing scripts for drugs left and right for these two. Somehow doctors have to be held accountable for dispensing pills without much background check
Posted By Anonymous ann marie san mateo, ca. : 9:22 PM ET
Correct me if Im wrong that you have to visit in person the physician who will prescribe anything for you. If that's the case, the doctor who wrote all these prescriptions might be interviewed. The reason the medical examiner should speak with the doctor is that the autopsy report was so vague. Whenever there's unanswered questions, shouldn't the physician be involved in the inquest?
Posted By Anonymous C G , Elk Grove Village ,Ill. : 9:30 PM ET
It's beside the point about the drugs being illegal or over-the-counter. He did this to himself. He may not have committed suicide, but he did this to himself. Don't look to other people, other people aren't responsible for him. He's responsible for himself. He was a grown man who knew what he was doing. He took too many drugs. Period.
Posted By Anonymous Anne - Detroit, MI. : 9:54 PM ET
I completely agree with Mindy and I am somewhat irritated and offended by the comment about being held accountable for our own actions. Heath Ledger is DEAD. He was a beautiful man with a tremendous God given talent and I don't give a crap about all this speculation. He wasn't running around in public acting like an ass like so many celebrities do these day who don't have half the talent he had. I hope we can let him rest in peace.
Posted By Anonymous Debbie, Denham Springs, LA : 10:03 PM ET
Nobody should jump to any conclusions this early in the investigation! I'm tired of this tabloidy media coverage full of speculation, and I'm even more disgusted by the video footage of Heath's body being carried out of the apartment building in a body bag. If it wasn't bad enough to have the paparazzi and gawkers stationed outside snapping pictures, let's broadcast it to the world. I feel like it serves NO purpose whatsoever but just another way to allow people to be fascinated with another celebrity death. We all need to remember that he IS someone's father, son, brother, and friend, but most of all he was a human being! We should all remember Heath for who he was as an actor and how he impacted the industry!!

Let the evidence speak for itself!
Posted By Anonymous Rita Rodriguez Plainview, TX : 10:33 PM ET
(in reference to the comment, not Heath Ledger's situation)

The prescribing doctors cannot be held responsible for their patients' use of the meds. Yes, some doctors do prescribe meds irresponsibly, however, they still discuss the drug and directions for use with the patient. Furthermore, the pharmacist again counsels the patient on the use of the prescribed drug and possible drug interactions. Such counseling is required by law in many states and common practice elsewhere. After receiving such extensive counseling from various health care professionals, how can the full blame be placed on the physician? Physicians cannot go home with their patients to monitor their use of prescription drugs- at some point people have to take responsibility for their own actions.
Posted By Anonymous Lindsay, Knoxville, TN : 3:05 AM ET
Ah, blame, that most American of games. Before you rush to find a scapegoat, Jami, please consider the possibility that this tragic and untimely death was either a simple "accident," or a case where individual personal responsibility would explain what happened. I am surprised that as a reporter you would jump on the knee jerk blame band wagon so swiftly, Jami. As Americans we tend to do the following - often aided by ambulance chasing lawyers:

I am not responsible for what I put in my mouth (whether it results in my becoming fat and/or dead); I am not responsible for what comes out of the barrel of the weapon I just fired; I am not responsible for the exhaust emitted by my vehicle/home/hairspray can; I am not responsible for my cancer, though I continue to chain smoke; I am not responsible for what my car does while I am drunk behind the wheel; I am not responsible for the dead, maimed, orphans in the countries my nation attacks.

Tragedies are universally awful, and the death of this talented, young celebrity, touches us all very deeply. However, searching for a scapegoat to explain and make sense of that which we do not want to face does nothing to ease our pain. Abdicating all personal responsibility does not sooth our unbearable sadness, it simply dooms us to endless repetition of the same.

In Heath's Ledger's case it may turn out to have been a simple "accident," and then no one would be to blame.

Nick E, Manhattan, NY
Posted By Anonymous Nickis : 12:40 PM ET
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