Recreational drugs are bad. Prescription Drugs are ok and mixing stuff, well that’s not a problem. It seems, based on statistics today, that this is the general consensus of the American public. Let’s review a few different scenarios and explain why mixing drugs, even those that your doctor has prescribed, could not only be dangerous, but fatal.
Ever see the movie “Something’s Gotta Give”? Jack Nicholson plays a 62 year old bad boy who has a thing, for you guessed it, young hot ladies. Thirty minutes into the movie our heart throb winds up in the emergency room post attempt at sexual encounter with his latest young lady. Nicholson has pain in his chest; he can’t breathe and admits to having worked himself up while kissing a young lady. When the physician asks him if he had taken any Viagra prior to coming to the hospital, Nicholson quickly responds ‘no’. His tune changes a minute later when he is informed that the combination of Viagra and nitroglycerin which he was being given at that very moment can cause a fatal reaction. The scene comes to a climax when Nicholson pulls the IV out of his arm.
The scene of this movie is hilarious. The not-so-funny part of it is its true. The mixture of Viagra and nitroglycerin can kill a man and it can do so quickly. How you ask? Well, nitroglycerin is a vasodilator. This means it causes blood vessels to dilate, or open up, which in turn causes more blood flow throughout the body. In the event of a heart attack, when someone experiences angina (which means pain), which is indicative of the heart muscle not receiving enough blood flow or oxygenation nitroglycerin is given to increase the amount of blood the heart receives. Nitroglycerin all on its own can cause hypotension or a drop in blood pressure. This happens because all of the vessels are wide open and now there is not sufficient blood flow through the body. When one takes Viagra, the effect of nitroglycerin is more intense and irreversible hypotension can occur. If the two drugs are taken within the same 24 hour period, the combination is fatal. If one’s blood pressure is not at the correct rate, the vasodilatation can cause death due to lack of oxygenation throughout the body.
I’m Anxious, Depressed and I can’t Sleep…Take a Pill for Each?
Anxiety, depression and insomnia often go hand in hand. Luckily, there is a pill to treat each one of those symptoms. Great, right? Right, except if you are for instance: Heath Ledger or Michael Jackson or any of the other stars or commoners who decided using a pill for each of their ailments was a good idea. The reason that all these pill poppers ended up in their local county morgue is simple: treatments for anxiety, depression and insomnia have one thing in common CNS depression.
In plain English, these medications result in Central Nervous System Depression which can mean decreased respirations. All of us know that breathing is a necessary function of life. Severe CNS depression can cause death. How many pills does one have to take to reach this point? There’s no clear cut formula or answer to the question because first, it depends on the mixture of the drugs and secondly, it depends on the drug metabolism of the pill popper. We all metabolize or breakdown things differently. So, one pill could have no effect on person A and have person B sleeping on the couch within five minutes of taking the medication. The take away message here: be conservative when taking any pills.
So we covered the mixture of Viagra and nitroglycerin but how about Viagra and ecstasy? The mix must be phenomenal right? Ecstasy, a club drug, has long been used to enhance sexual experiences. It was only natural that eventually club goers were going to attempt to mix a patented sex enhancer like Viagra with the off the market ecstasy. The result of course, is sexacious! Viagra increases blood flow to the penis and with ecstasy mixed in can result in an erection that can last for hours. This can result in a trip to the hospital, damage to tissue of the penis and can even a heart attack. In other words, too much of a good thing can, quite literally, kill you.
So, Just How Bad is the Problem?
A retrospective study was performed in which death certificates from 1983 to 2004 were reviewed. Researchers found close to 200,000 out of 50 million death certificates were medication errors (or improper use or mixing of alcohol or drugs) involving alcohol or the combination of alcohol and street drugs. This of course, does not account for the number of deaths that were not linked to use of alcohol or drugs. The physicians conducting the study found that deaths from domestic use of alcohol with or without the combined use of street drugs had skyrocketed by 3,196 percent. Non-domestic fatalities linked to drugs used in a controlled setting as in a hospital, only increased by 5 percent.
The Link Between all these Situations Is??
We all know that taking drugs all on their own, one at a time can have side effects. The take away message to all this information is simple, just taking one more pill does make a difference and can have an effect that may kill you. One must consider this and understand that there is danger, it can be fatal, and the momentary high or that elicit sexual experience is just not worth the risk. Help your physician by telling him or her what medications you’re taking, doing so could save your life.
Rachel Hayon, BSN, MPH, RN
Carole, Melissa. Viagra and Nitroglycerin: A Deadly Combination. 8 November 2007 http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/438221/viagra_and_nitroglycerin_a_deadly_combination.html?cat=70 Accessed 29 October 2009.
Dobson, Roger. IT'S SEXTASY ... ; Alert over lethal mix of ecstasy and Viagra. 5 December 1999. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4161/is_19991205/ai_n14497501/Accessed 28 October 2009.
Salvatore, Steve Paramedics warned against Viagra, nitroglycerin mix Potential health threat to patients cited. 21 May 1998. http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/9805/21/viagra.warning/ Accessed 30 October 2009
Springen, Karen. Deadly Combo?A pharmacology expert explains how the types of drugs found at Heath Ledger's apartment can affect the body and why they are potentially lethal if taken incorrectly.23 January 2008. http://www.newsweek.com/id/101112/page/1. Accessed 29 October 2009
How mixing medications can be fatal: A large-scale study of home medication consumption has highlighted the danger of mixing drugs. 29. July 2008 http://www.news-medical.net/news/2008/07/29/40317.aspx Accessed 28 October 2009