What is the Danger of Combining Prescription Medications?

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) -- National reports say 28-year-old actor Heath Ledger most likely died of a drug overdose with prescriptions for multiple medications found inside his home including Ambien, Zoloft and Valium.

In light of the loss of this young actor, we are taking a closer look at how dangerous those drugs are.

"Together they're pretty safe.  They're safe unless you add another type of central nervous system depressant.  By themselves, just that combination, they're usually pretty safe," said pharmacist Dr. Chris Duty.

Dr. Albert Fonticiella said the most important thing for patients is to know what they're taking and how to take it.

"The education process of the physician to the patient in making sure that they know that you should not mix these or take large quantities and not drink alcohol and not take while driving," said Dr. Adalberto Fonticiella.

"Look at your bottle.  See what is prescribed by the physician or what is on the bottle.  If it is an over the counter medication then you should take it as directed," said Duty.

Doctors and pharmacists agree that a drug overdose can occur from mixing your medications together without knowing the side effects.

"You have to remember that different medications that are over the counter are actually drugs.  At one time most of them were prescribed drugs and the public fails to remember that," said Dr. Fonticiella.

And sometimes you can even build up a tolerance to a medication and take more than your prescriber recommends which can lead to severe side effects, but not necessarily death.

"Some individuals, they want to feel that curtain of security or relaxation and they may take more than one or two medications.  Instead of taking one or two pills they take a hand full of pills," said Dr. Fonticiella.