Risky Drug Combinations -- a Fickle Fix?

While dangerous drug combos lead some to their deaths, others mix with abandon.

ByABC News
January 23, 2008, 1:30 PM

Jan. 24, 2008 — -- While the exact reasons surrounding the death of actor Heath Ledger, 28, will only be determined by further testing, police and forensic pathologists are already looking to drug interactions as a possible culprit.

And as the tales of celebrities who may have died from drug combinations accumulate, stories of people who appear to have indulged in chemical cocktails and lived to tell about it are also making the rounds on the entertainment news scene.

In one possible example of this behavior, a home video released this week by the British newspaper The Sun showed singer Amy Winehouse inhaling from a type of glass pipe commonly used to smoke crack cocaine just a few minutes after she announced that she had taken six tablets of the anti-anxiety drug Valium.

New York-based forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner is chairman of the Forensic Panel, a national forensic science practice that consults on death investigations. He says that a number of factors could affect the likelihood of a given individual dying from a dangerous combination of prescription medicine.

And he notes that recklessness, like that apparently exhibited by Winehouse, is only part of the equation.

"What this says is that this is a person who has the experience of taking drug combinations and waking up the next day and being OK," Welner said. "When people have these types of experiences, they develop their own style of how they take and mix drugs."

With some medications, individuals will find that their tolerance of the drug grows the longer they have been taking it. With time, they may be able to safely take a dose of this drug that would pose a serious hazard for someone who has never taken it.