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Few Age Limits on Prescription Drug Abuse

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In death, Anna Nicole Smith has become something of a poster child for the problem of prescription-drug misuse, which involves users of every age, the Miami Herald reported April 9.

A recent autopsy revealed that Smith, 39, died of “acute combined drug intoxication;” none of the 11 drugs found in her system were illegal. ''We become so dependent on [prescription drugs] we start to use more, to mix and match. And pretty soon, we have a lethal combination,” said George Hime, toxicologist at the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office.

Smith died from a fatal mix of chloral hydrate and a half-dozen or so other depressants; her son, Daniel, also died of a drug overdose, in 2006.

Patients often end up with multiple prescriptions by “doctor shopping,” experts say.

''We've seen an increase in abuse, especially in the elderly,” said Rick Wolfson, who runs an addiction treatment program at South Miami Hospital. “They're lonely. The kids don't visit. They have money problems. Their doctor doesn't have time to listen, so he gives them tranquilizers.”

Older patients who try to quit cold turkey also can suffer withdrawal-related health problems, including seizures and strokes, said Wolfson.

On the other end of the age spectrum, adolescent abuse of prescription drugs like Vicodin and stimulants like Ritalin remains a significant problem.

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