On Friday, February 28, New York officials announced the results of Philip Seymour Hoffman autopsy. As reported by the L.A. Times, the Oscar winner’s death was a result of acute mixed drug intoxication. The medical examiner confirmed that multiple substances were found in Hoffman’s system including cocaine, benzodiazepines, amphetamines and heroin. The beloved actor was found dead in his New York City apartment on February 2.
Philip Seymour Hoffman
What is acute mixed drug intoxication?
According to American Outreach, a website that provides education about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse, acute mixed drug intoxication (also sometimes called combined drug intoxication or multiple drug intake) is a condition in which intoxication occurs due to simultaneous use of “multiple drugs, whether prescription, over-the-counter, recreational, or a combination of any of these.”
The toxicity of these events varies, depending on the kinds of substances used and how they react with each other. When drugs with opposite effects – like cocaine, a stimulant, and heroin, a depressant – are consumed together, the body’s reaction is often lethal. This was the case with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and other notable celebrity deaths like Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith and Lisa Robin Kelly, among others.
Let’s take a look at what some of the substances discussed in PSH’s autopsy can do to the body.
Dangers of cocaine
Cocaine gets users “high” by interfering with the brain, but it’s not just the brain that it affects. Cocaine impacts many parts of the body. These are just few complications listed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that can be caused be cocaine:
- Arrhythmia and heart attacks, even in young people without heart disease
- Stroke or seizures
- Abdominal pain, nausea, ulcers
- Sudden death
Dangers of benzodiazepines
While they are often prescribed for legitimate anxiety disorders, benzodiazepines (drugs with brand names like Valium, Xanax and Librium) have a high propensity for addiction and are not generally prescribed for long-term use. One of the primary dangers of benzodiazepines includes drug tolerance, in which the user needs increasingly larger doses to achieve the same intended results. This can lead to dependence and addiction. Taking greater-than-prescribed amounts of benzodiazepines can lead to overdose, especially if they are taken along with other drugs and/or alcohol.
Dangers of amphetamines
Amphetamines are stimulants that work through the central nervous system. Sometimes, amphetamines like Adderall are prescribed to treat attention deficit disorder. According the University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), when taken at proper doses, the potential for abuse and addiction remain relatively low. However, when taken at doses higher than recommended, addiction becomes a real risk. Psychological and physical dependence occur, and the user can experience “binge and crash” cycles while trying to maintain the high. “When binge episodes end, the abuser “crashes” and is left with severe depression, anxiety, extreme fatigue, and a craving for more drugs.”
Dangers of heroin
Heroin has tragically become an increasingly preferred illicit drug of choice. Many addicts first become addicted to painkillers, but ultimately turn to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to come by than prescriptions. Heroin is derived from morphine. It interferes with the brain’s ability to feel pain. The high from heroin is described as “euphoric,” but there is great risk for addiction and even greater risk of health complications. These are just some of the mentioned health problems associated with heroin (not including mixed drug interactions or overdoses) from Drugfree.org:
- Collapsed veins
- Infection of the heart lining and valves
- Liver disease
- Pulmonary complications
No matter the class of drugs, mixing substances (even over-the-counter medications) with alcohol or other drugs can lead to very dangerous situations. As demonstrated by the Philip Seymour Hoffman story, the consequences are often tragic.
While heroin and cocaine are known as dangerous substances (especially when co-administered), health risks do not stop with illicit drugs. Prescription drugs, particularly when used beyond recommended doses and concurrently with other substances – including alcohol – pose very serious health threats.
Drug and alcohol addiction, like the underlying causes that often contribute to use in the first place, is a disease. It requires treatment.
If you’re struggling with addiction or seeking help for a loved one who is, get help today. The Watershed’s incredible staff is available day and night to talk about your needs. 1-800-861-1768.