A coroner’s report confirmed last week that actor Cory Monteith’s death was a result of an overdose. Monteith joins icons like Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, John Belushi, and Jim Morrison in meeting a premature end by overdosing on prescription opioids, heroin, or some mixture of these drugs with other substances. We all know that stars are “just like us,” so it should come as no surprise that celebrities are not exceptional when it comes to risks of overdose.
In fact, Motheith’s death is part of a nationwide epidemic that has quietly climbed the charts of America’s top killers: drug overdoses now claim more lives than motor vehicle accidents. Opioid drugs (including prescription painkillers and heroin) are the primary culprits, contributing to approximately 17,000 U.S. deaths. Though countless celebrities have tragically died of overdose, there is no high-profile spokesperson, event, or fund dedicated to battling this epidemic.
In the wake of last week’s tragedy, many voices have pointed out (for example, here, here, and here) that Monteith’s demise — and that of many others — could have been prevented. People emerging from detox (or any other period of abstinence, such as spending time behind bars) are many times more likely to overdose than regular users. This is because, when you resume drug use after a hiatus, it is not unusual to pick up where you left off in terms of what and how much you use; one’s regular dose can become lethal in such situations because of changes in the body’s ability to tolerate the drug. People emerging from treatment may also mix various drugs and alcohol, which proved the lethal combination in Monteith’s case.