This week, Michael Jackson‘s physician Dr. Conrad Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. It’s a huge headline, and not just because it involves the death of a celebrity. Prescription drug abuse is a huge epidemic, and celebrities aren’t the only ones involved. Around the world, there is shockingly little oversight over the drugs that are prescribed by doctors and filled by pharmacists every day. In Jackson’s case, he was taking a highly potent drug cocktail and Dr. Murray had more than enough information to do something about it before the singer died.
But it is surprisingly easy today for patients to end up with conflicting prescriptions from different doctors, and that’s not even counting patients who actively hunt around for multiple doctors to give them the meds they want. Or even simply mix the wrong drugs because they don’t have enough information on how they might interact together.
That is what happened in the case of another patient that we’d like to share. Karly Long was a 29-year-old struggling with mental health problems who died on May 15, 1999 of a prescription drug overdose. Karly was a longtime sufferer of bipolar disorder, and was trying to get her drug dependency under control when she died with a lethal mix of drugs in her system.
Blisstree spoke with Karly’s mother Penny Long about what happened to her daughter and who should be held responsible for monitoring the drugs that are prescribed by the hundreds every day.
As Penny points out, her daughter and Michael Jackson’s situations were not so different. In both cases, doctors and drug companies provided inadequate oversight over a dangerous mix of prescription meds:
“It’s the same only different: It’s Michael Jackson’s money and powerfulness that was able to get the more powerful drugs and dramatic kind of treatment. It’s different circumstances and different income brackets, but for the multitudes of us out there, it’s the same problem: There’s not enough regulation or accountability.”
At the time of her death, toxicologists found a total of eight prescription drugs in Karly’s system, and the police report from her death states that five recently-purchased bottles of meds were seized: Two bottles of oxycocet (a combination of oxycodone, an addictive narcotic pain-reliever, and acetaminophen), apo-clonazepam (a benzodiazepine, an addictive tranquilizer used to treat anxiety), apo-alpraz (another benzodiazepine), and paroxetine HCL (an antidepressant). And her purse contained 10 prescription receipts from multiple physicians, all issued the same month she died.
But Karly wasn’t some sort of recreational drug user. She suffered from bipolar disorder for most of her adult life. Though she was addicted to several of her medications by the end, she died trying to manage and understand her mental illness, not trying to get high. Penny explained how her daughter’s problems began:
“It was in junior high that things really escalated: She was angry, skipping school, running away from home, and had real behavior problems that were enough to warrant help, and we tried. We were involved with doctors, therapists, Children’s Aid, and all of us were searching for answers or direction. When she was younger, she was resistant to help, but in 1995 she called me and she was reading a book in Algonquin Park—’You Don’t Have To Feel This Way,’ about bipolar disorder—and she said to me, ‘Mom, I think this is me.’ She went to a doctor who started to treat her for bipolar with lithium, which she said was a God send for her. But then she moved to Toronto and had to change doctors. Her new doctors told her she wasn’t manic depressive and took her off lithium to begin a series of various diagnoses and multiple medications.”
With the new medications, Karly’s behavior became more erratic, and although it took her and her mother months to realize it, she’d become addicted to the new drugs she’d been prescribed.