I am not exactly a Billy Mays fan - because I don't watch television, I didn't even know who he was until his death was reported. However, I have been pondering the news of his death as it relates to the pharmaceutical industry.
Did cocaine really kill Billy Mays? Or was it big pharma?
Mays, age 50, was scheduled for hip surgery the day after his death. He suffered from heart disease and was taking several perscription drugs: hydrocodone, oxycodone and tramadol, as well alprazolam and diazepam. All of these drugs carry potentially lethal side effects or risk of overdose. Two of them, alprazolam and oxycodone, are responsible for more hospital emergency room admissions than any other drug.
It is a well known fact in the medical community that some of these drugs, specifically opioids, can cause a "false positive" during a drug screening.
Amitava Dasgupta, in "A Health Educator's Guide to Drugs of Abuse Testing", writes the following (see p. 172).
When sold commercially in the United States, hydrocodone is always combined with another medication. Certain combinations can cause false drug testing failures resulting in positive results of Morphine HCI, and depending on the combination, (those combined with APAP or Chemdal HD) Cocaine hydrocloride (because of the stimulating effects and similar salts), so it is very important to inform drug control officers of any and all prescriptions.
Mays' family questioned the finding of cocaine and criticized the medical examiner's officer for issuing the report.
"We were totally unaware of any non-prescription drug usage and are actively considering an independent evaluation of the autopsy results," Mays' family said in a statement.
The statement said the family was "extremely disappointed" by the release of the information. They said the report "contains speculative conclusions that are frankly unnecessary and tend to obscure the conclusion that Billy suffered from chronic, untreated hypertension, which only demonstrates how important it is to regularly monitor one's health."
Longtime friend and colleague AJ Khubani, founder and CEO of the "As Seen on TV" product company Telebrands, said Mays never showed any signs of drug use and was always prepared for his many commericial shoots.
"I'm just shocked," Khubani said. "He was the model of a responsible citizen."
Interesting stuff. While cocaine can certainly be a deadly drug, there is a possibility that it was not in fact the cause of Mays' death.
This diary may indeed be sheer speculation on a matter of which I have limited knowledge. However, what seems certain to me is that a national dialogue needs to begin on the all-too-common dangers of prescription mediciation, akin to the successful dialogue on the dangers of cigarette smoking. Many of these prescription drugs are easy to abuse, and more readily available to minors, through parents, than are illegal substances. Oxycodone is an opiate, kissing cousin to morphine and heroin. And Alprazolam, an anti-anxiety drug, results in more emergency room admissions than oxycodone.
It also needs to be said here that many hospital room admissions in general that are tagged for illegal substance abuse are actually the result of combining illegal substances with prescription drugs.
And will you look at this, a report from the very Florida Medical Examiner's Commission.