Just months ago, the world lost iconic musician Tom Petty. He died after suffering multiple episodes of cardiac arrest. While Tom Petty experienced a long and hard journey with drugs (Turnbridge shares his story here), his death was not instantly deemed a drug overdose. Until now.
On January 20, 2018 – more than 100 days after his passing – the results of Tom Petty’s toxicology report were released: Petty’s cardiac arrest was the direct result of an accidental overdose, caused by mixed drug toxicity. The coroner identified fentanyl, oxycodone, temazepam, alprozolam, citalopram, acetyl fentanyl, and despropionyl fentanyl in his system at the time of death.
Perhaps this is what many fans expected – a relapse, some said, knowing Tom Petty had his toils with heroin addiction in his earlier years. Heroin addiction and prescription opioid abuse go hand-in-hand. Interestingly, however, many of the medications causing Petty’s overdose were ones that had been legally prescribed. According to the Petty family, the musician was given multiple pain medications, including fentanyl patches, because he was suffering from a multitude of “serious ailments including emphysema, knee problems and most significantly, a fractured hip.
Tom Petty died just one week after finishing up his 40th anniversary tour with The Heartbreakers – they had a stint of 53 shows, all of which Petty played with a fractured hip. Unfortunately, it worsened as the weeks went on and, on the day of his death, he was informed the fracture graduated to a full-on break. His family believes that, by this time, the pain was so unbearable he loaded up on drugs to subside it.
“We hope in some way this report can save lives. Many people who overdose begin with a legitimate injury or simply do not understand the potency and deadly nature of these medications,” Petty’s family wrote in their official statement.
The drugs found in Tom Petty’s system were a series of controlled substances: fentanyl and oxycodone, two painkillers; alprazolam and temazepam, two benzodiazepines that are used to treat anxiety and insomnia; and citalopram, an antidepressant drug.
Let’s start with the prescription painkillers. Fentanyl, as we know, is one of the deadliest substances out there today. And unfortunately, it is driving the massive spike in fatal drug overdoses across the United States. Fentanyl killed more than 20,000 people in 2016, more than double from the previous year. In addition to Prince and Lil Peep’s fentanyl overdoses, we can now add Tom Petty’s name to that list.
It’s important to note that acetyl fentanyl, one of the analogs found in Petty’s system, has not been approved for medical use in the United States. As of today, it is classified as a Schedule I drug and there are no published studies on its safety for human use.
Now, combine fentanyl – a drug 100 times more potent than morphine – with the “benzo” alprazolam, often sold as the brand name Xanax. It is typically used as an anti-anxiety medication, and when controlled, is designed to relax users who may be anxious or unable to sleep. However, as we found with Lil Peep’s overdose, fentanyl and Xanax, when combined, can lead to respiratory distress, cardiac arrest, coma, and death.
On top of the physical pain Tom Petty was experiencing in late 2017, he was likely experiencing some emotional turmoil, as well. We can assume this from his antidepressant prescription, citalopram. And as we know from our last article about Petty’s drug abuse, the musician had a history of depression. Even at 50-years-old, he self-medicated with drugs. The author of Tom Petty’s biography, Warren Zanes, explained to the Washington Post, “That happens when the pain becomes too much and you live in a world, in a culture, where people have reached in the direction of heroin to stop the pain.”
It’s a story we hear all too often, especially among the stars. Pain, whether physical or emotional, paving the path to drug abuse. Drug abuse transitioning into taking toxic combinations of drugs just to feel better. Toxic drug combinations leading to fatal overdoses.
“It’s an ugly f—ing thing,” Tom Petty once said of drug abuse and addiction. “Really ugly. I fear that if I talk about it, people will think, ‘Well, I could do it and get off.’ But you can’t. Very few people do.”
When drug addiction is caught and addressed, when loved ones intervene early on and seek out professional drug treatment, addiction is in fact treatable. It may be a vicious cycle, it may be a chronic disease, but addiction always has the potential for recovery. It also has the potential for overdose.
Tom Petty’s toxicology report sheds light on the dangers of drug abuse, and the importance of proper, professional, and long-term drug treatment. If you or a loved one is experiencing a drug problem, please do not wait to find help. Contact Turnbridge young adult rehab at 877-581-1793 to learn more.