Cover Story

Deadly Combination

      Police searching the Bel Air estate of movie producer Don Simpson after his 1996 death discovered thousands of tablets and pills lined up neatly in alphabetical order in his bedroom closet.

      They also found evidence of their use: Simpson overdosed on a combination of 21 drugs. And they learned that over the preceding three years, Simpson had obtained his drugs — some 15,000 amphetamines, sedatives, tranquilizers and others — from 15 doctors and eight pharmacies. Thus life ended at age 52 for the co-producer of such popular films as “Top Gun,” “Crimson Tide” and “Beverly Hills Cop.”

      “Everybody understands how lethal street drugs like heroin are, but it takes a prescription overdose by someone famous like Don Simpson to drive home the fact that pharmaceutical medications are just as deadly,” said Steve Simmons, a senior investigator for the California Medical Board.

      A federal criminal investigation is in progress into the deaths of Simpson and his physician friend, Stephen Ammerman, found at Simpson’s estate five months earlier with a lethal level of morphine, antidepressants and other drugs in his body. A civil lawsuit against several individuals, including psychiatrist Nomi Fredrick, who prescribed drugs to Simpson under an alias, is also pending.

      High profile “legal drug” tragedies continue to mount. After Australian rock superstar Michael Hutchence of INXS died in November in an apparent suicide, his songwriting partner Andrew Farriss attributed the death to Prozac and alcohol. In December, actor and comedian Chris Farley died after a four-day drinking and drug-taking binge, and here again Prozac was present.

      Yet legal drugs have never been marketed to the public at large more vigorously. Hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising from drug makers are now making their way to broadcast and cable television networks — thanks to a federal government policy announced August 8, 1997 which allows companies to plug their drugs direct to the public without having to detail their side effects — while millions already routinely read print ads touting prescription drugs in magazines and newspapers. “It is time to examine the issue of legal drugs in our society,” said Dr. John Sommers-Flanagan of the University of Montana.


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