A popular diet drug may have played a role in the death of the former football athlete and “Police Academy” actor Bubba Smith, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner report released Wednesday.
The coroner’s office ruled that Smith, 66, died from an overdose of the diet drug phentermine.
According to Bruce Goldberger, professor and director of toxicology at University of Florida College of Medicine, the coroner’s report indicating “acute phentermine intoxication,” suggests Smith’s death didn’t result from buildup of taking the medication over a span of weeks or months. Rather, multiple pills consumed rapidly led to Smith’s death.
Phentermine, a drug used to speed weight loss by suppressing appetite, also works as a stimulant.
“When someone dies acutely from phentermine overdose, the death is a result of the overstimulation of the central nervous system,” said Goldberger.
Too much phentermine can cause the heart to beat irregularly and the body to overheat until the person collapses. Smith’s reported heart disease may have put him at higher risk for deadly side effects of the drug.
Phentermine was one ingredient in the infamous combination “Fen-Phen,” which was booted off the market after it was shown to potentially cause serious heart risks. Fenfluramine – the “Fen” part of the combination drug – was implicated as the more dangerous ingredient. The combination increased the danger risk.
Unlike other stimulants like Adderall, phentermine, which is easily detectable in toxicology tests, is not often recreationally abused.
“It’s abused in the setting of weight loss,” said Goldberger, who added that body image issues are most often associated with phentermine abuse.
“My confusion is why someone like Bubba Smith [would] be using or abusing phentermine,” he said.
Smith, perhaps known most for playing Moses Hightower in the “Police Academy” movies, was found dead in August in his Los Angeles home. Authorities initially said he died of natural causes.