I have no idea what killed Brittany Murphy.  The press are reporting that she had a ‘heart attack’ at age 32, not fully understanding the difference between a ‘heart attack’– which typically refers to a heart that stops functioning because of an inadequate suppy of oxygen, usually from coronary artery blockage– vs. ‘cardiac arrest’, a garden-variety term used by coroners who must cite a cause of death without an autopsy, reliable history, or lab results.  We ALL die of cardiac arrest in the end.  Opiate addicts usually suffer respiratory failure, either because of a reduced drive to breathe secondary to the effects of opiates at the brainstem, or because of a ‘blocked airway’ caused by stomach contents gettting into the throat and/or trachea.  The respiratory failure ultimately leads to too little oxygen at the heart, causing the heart to either stop beating or to go into an erratic beating pattern called ‘V-Tach’ or ‘V-Fib’, eventually failing to keep blood flowing to the rest of the body– particularly the brain.

Britttany Murphy with USO, July 2009

Britttany Murphy with USO, July 2009

Reports of Brittany’s death have mentioned that ‘prescription medications’ were found at the scene.  The phrase ‘prescription medications’ is usually code for ‘pain pills.’  And since the death rate for opiate addicts is so high, I am going out on a limb in a BIG way.  I am not trying to make a prediction– only to eventually make a point about opiate addiction, admitting that I may be making the point prematurely.
Britttany Murphy was rumored to have an eating disorder and an addiction to cocaine.  I don’t mean to impugn her character, and hopefully anyone who reads my blog understands that addiction is a disease that NOBODY asks for or deserves.  My concept of addiction would include an eating disorder, by the way.  I am sure that readers have a hard time understanding where I draw lines of responsibility;  I often write from a stance requiring ‘personal responsibility,’ so where do I get off, you ask, painting Brittany Murphy as a victim?  My answer is that it is possible to be everything at once.  We are all responsible for maintaining the behavior necessary to keep ourselves alive.  But there are times when we fail– all of us.  And most people who ‘fail’ and as a result become addicted to drugs face penalties constantly from that point forward– very rapidy getting to a point where we have been punished enough.  IF Brittany Murphy died from complications related to addiction, her death would be on top of the many evenings of misery she already endured– waking up early shaking with chills, running to the bathroom with diarrhea, missing parties at the last minute because of being too sick to go, and the demoralization that comes from looking in the mirror each morning and seeing that pathetic, failure of a person looking back.  Sometimes we look at celebrities and picture the moments when flashes are going off and the person is mugging for the cameras.  But from the moment this morning when I heard that Britttany Murphy had died, I felt (again, perhaps incorrectly) as if I know her very well.  I know how she felt each morning.  I know the relief she felt when certain people ‘came through’ for her.  I know how she felt about having a double personality– that all of her fans thought she was this great person, and deep inside she felt like a liar for keeping her secret from them.  I know how she felt when things looked hopeless– when she thought there was no possible way to escape.  I know how she felt when she was alone with the bathroom door closed and locked, wishing that things would just end without ever taking another step outside that safe little space.

If I am wrong, I am sorry– and I am thinking about someone else who is one of thousands of people who think exactly alike about a few deeply-personal things.  If I am right, I’m sorry that the long list got a little longer with the name of someone so obviously special.


angelo212 · December 21, 2009 at 10:02 pm

Doc, your a really good writer and always have a way with words.

    SuboxDoc · December 23, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    Thank you very much– I really do appreciate it! Happy Holidays to you,

dmcguigan · December 23, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Your summary about the possible medical problems that lead to medication use, and perhaps overuse brings up the question of where do people with problems start to address them. When panic, horrid nightmares, profound sadness, inability to sleep regularly are part of everyday life, where does a person go to begin climbing out of the hole? Alcohol and drugs are something people can find on their own, which sometimes stops the pain, even if the distraction is ever so brief. The drug user in my house seems to self medicate with what ever she can get….If you have health insurance and you have panic, you get a medication. You have sleep issues, you get a medication. The medications do not help. You get a sleep study, nothing shows, but you still can not sleep. Where do people start if they can begin to describe what they feel like,,,and they know that something is wrong with them and they are tired of hurting? How do you start to help yourself? If the people that are rich and famous, with money for Doctors can’t figure out how to get better, what do the regular people do? Thanks….

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