The news of actor Heath Ledger's death this past week is an incredibly sad story, especially given the news that he had a troubled sleep life and seemingly fought hard to overcome his problems. When the news reported that the sleeping pill Lunesta was found in his apartment, my hope was that people didn’t automatically assume he yanked the rug out from under himself by downing a litany of Lunesta. Apparently, other meds were in the mix, and it will take time for the toxicology report to (hopefully) pinpoint exactly what took his life.
I hear echoes of the Anna Nicole Smith case, who died last year of “combined drug intoxication” with the sleeping medication chloral hydrate, which was found in her system, being the “major component.” (No illegal drugs were found in her body.) Chloral hydrate is of the old-fashioned kind of sleeping pills; it’s a strong sedative—the same one speculated to be responsible (potentially) for Marilyn Monroe’s premature death. Granted, I don’t think it was ever determined exactly what killed Marilyn.
With today’s new class of sleeping pills it’s highly unlikely that you can overdose to the point that you kill yourself (there is one paper showing someone took 180 10mg tabs of Ambien and woke up 4 days later, no problems).