Up Close with Dr. E: Accidental Overdose | Lifestyles
His name was Patrick. He was 15. He had a thin build and he stood at 5 feet 9 inches. His auburn hair had a permanent natural curl, which, in the humid months of summer, a sponge soaking up moisture from the air, swelling his hair into ringlets which bounced like coils of steel springs whenever he walked. No razor’s edge had ever explored the curves of his cheeks. Patches of black velvet face fuzz sprouted on his chin and darkened his upper lip.
Patrick was the son of a woman named Lillian, and his cold body was discovered on a lazy, sun-drenched Saturday afternoon, July 5th, sunk down deep in the purple shadows cast by the steel bridge which spanned the river. He was found by a coon dog who, having caught the downwind draft of death, barked out to its masters, two young brothers who were fishing on the south bank of the river. When they spied the reason their dog had made such a ruckus, the brothers were not alarmed. Having never seen a dead body, they believed that the boy was just lying down. But when their dog howled and kept acting strangely, the older brother bent down and with one finger, gently touched the sleeping boy on the forehead. What he felt – cold, dead flesh – changed everything. How did he die? Why did he die? Who was he? Why was he here?
Patrick was not murdered, nor did he take his own life. But, he did not die of natural causes. What were his last dying words? There were none. His final thoughts before he passed away? None. His death held no drama. He simply became sleepy; eyelids turned to lead were too heavy to keep open. Like a ghost ship abandoned by its crew, Patrick drifted away, off course, caught in the undertow of death’s currents, his life slowly slipped into the sea mist and vanished.
A young boy, halfway through the second decade of this life, found dead, under a bridge, all alone.
His mother was escorted by two burly police officers, one on each side, to hold her up, so she could identify the body. But when she saw the swirls of auburn hair, she knew who lay under the white sheet.
Here is what was found inside Patrick’s body: 1. Alprazolam (Xanax), an anti-anxiety medication. 2. Triazolam (Halcion), a sleep medication. 3. Oxycodone (Oxycontin), a pain medication. 4. Alcohol.
Patrick died because he did not know that mixing drugs altered the arithmetic of what is called, “Drug-Drug Interactions”. He believed – falsely – that four drugs would combine in the same way as simple addition: 1+1+1+1 = 4. Drug-drug interactions may or may not obey the laws of addition. In Patrick’s case, they more closely obeyed the law of exponents: four drugs squared = 16. When Patrick took his drug combo, he only wanted to get high. Had he known about drug – drug interactions, he could have prevented his own death.
Here is a mini-class on what is called, Pharmacokinetics, the body’s way of handling drugs:
1. Absorption: When you swallow a pill, it goes to your stomach to be absorbed into the blood stream.
2. Distribution: The blood stream carries the drug to the brain, so it can do its job.
3. Metabolism: The liver breaks down the drug, so it can be removed from the body.
4. Excretion: The kidney excretes the broken-down drug via urination.
The liver operates like a trucking company. Medications are delivered to the liver and stacked up on loading docks, so they can be broken down. Each drug has its own specific loading dock.
Here is what killed Patrick: His four-drug combo needed to be taken to the same loading dock. But since there were too many drugs for the dock to hold, a lot of the drug was backed up, which meant it stayed in the blood stream way too long. Since his combo contained psychoactive agents, which act directly on the brain – his breathing centers were shut down – too many circulating drugs had short-circuited it.
Patrick died of an accidental overdose (AO), a death which could have been prevented.
When young people are given good facts about drugs, they make good decisions. Do you doubt me? Let’s go back in time: It’s the Fourth of July and Patrick is celebrating with his friends. They have brought drugs, and when he sees them, he says, “Hey, drugs don’t combine by simple arithmetic. No, they combine exponentially. So, four drugs pack the power of 16, not four. Be careful dude, or you’ll be an AO!
(The content of this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for treatment by a professional. The characters in this story are not real. Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality.)