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article imageNewspaper: Ambien and pneumonia combination may have caused Ledger's death

By Chris V. Thangham     Jan 23, 2008 in Entertainment
Actor Heath Ledger had sleeping problems prior to his death yesterday. An Australian newspaper speculates that his sleeping tablets consumption in combination with his reported pneumonia condition might have led to his fatal death.
Prior to his death, Heath Ledger gave an interview to the New York Times in November and talked about his upcoming movie, The Dark Knight, and said the movie stressed him so much he was unable to sleep. He told them he used to take Ambien to assist with his sleeping problems.
He had said in that interview about how his role as Joker in that movie had affected him:
Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night…I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.Ambien is sold as Stilnox in Australia and has been a big controvers y-- many Australians have complained that it made them act bizarre in sleep. Consumers had reported walking, eating, driving and having sexual intercourse in their sleep after taking the sleeping tablets.
As a result, the medicines regulator in Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, had to update the warnings label on Stilnox two months ago.
The updated warning now also mentions less common side effects such as "rage reactions, worsened insomnia, confusion, agitation, hallucinations and other forms of unwanted behavior."
One of the national drug reaction hotlines received more than 500 complaints about this drug. Some of the Stilnox users reported odd behaviors like falling off from balconies, crashing cars after taking the drug. One of patients complained that the drug made them gain more than 23 kilograms after they began to eat while during asleep.
The manufacturer of Stilnox, Sanofi-Aventis, said it is difficult to put the blame entirely on the drug. It may have also been influenced by the patients’ conditions also.
The general practitioner John Gullota, who is also the chairman of the therapeutic committee of the Australian Medical Association talked about the case, but didn’t comment specifically on the case, since he doesn’t have all the data. But he said the following to the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper in Australia:
In general, pneumonia can be a fatal condition if it progresses quickly and it hasn't got better with treatment. Sometimes sleeping tablets can add to that and can cause respiratory problems…The benzodiazepine class of sleeping tablet can dampen down breathing. It all depends how many [the person] takes and the dosage.”If this were true, the sleeping drugs and pneumonia combination might have caused adverse reactions in Heath Ledger and led to his premature death.
The real cause of death will be known once the investigators analyze the autopsy report.
In hindsight, he could have consulted a doctor, but it is too late. The only thing we can learn from this unfortunate death is to be careful with drugs and see whether they have any problems or side effects with other drugs or medical conditions.
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