The death of Health Ledger highlighted the very real risks associated with prescription medication when misused. We live in a pharmaceutical world where there is now a drug for almost every condition, and even for some conditions we didn’t know we had! Popping a pill to cure a headache, get and maintain an erection and -˜feel better’ is now the norm.

It is important to remember that prescription medications are just as dangerous as other drugs. For some reason, some people seem to think that because they get the drug from a doctor that automatically makes it safe. Using any prescription drug entails some degree of risk, but the depressant drugs are the most problematic when it comes to overdose. As in the Heath Ledger case, mixing and matching depressant drugs that treat sleep disorders, pain and/or anxiety can lead to fatal consequences.

Unfortunately this practice is all too common among some in the gay and lesbian community, particularly those who use stimulant drugs such as ecstasy and crystal. These substances interrupt sleep patterns and as a result some turn to prescription medication to assist them get some well-needed rest. Friends will often provide sleep medication (a range of benzodiazepines including temazepam and Valium) or pills used to treat anxiety such as Xanax to others to help them sleep after a big night out.

Doctors have become far stricter in recent years in relation to prescribing these medications. These drugs are highly addictive and should only be used for short periods of time. They are also very dangerous when used in combination with other prescription medication as well as other drugs, particularly alcohol and GHB.

When they are prescribed by your GP, your doctor usually knows your medical history and should be aware of what other medication you are using. This is not the case when a friend gives you a couple of pills from his or her medical cabinet.

Of course, using a Xanax or a Valium once in a while to help you sleep is not necessarily going to result in an overdose situation or any other major problems, but it is important to remember that prescription medication is very powerful. Becoming too flippant about taking these drugs is dangerous and sharing them amongst friends is not a wise idea.

Remember: If you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug and no matter how many times you have used a substance -“ never be blas?

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