Heath Ledger’s father on the scourge of prescription opioid addiction
Almost 10 years ago, the young Australian film star died of a prescription drug overdose. His father Kim, a patron of the advocacy group Scriptwise, is now fighting to help other families.
Heath Ledger arrives at the premiere of the film Candy in New York in 2006. (Reuters: Eric Thay)
On the opioid epidemic
“We are losing millions of people across USA, we’ve lost thousands of people across Australia,” he said.
“In Victoria alone, they lose a planeload of people every year so something has to be done.”
Heath Ledger’s (L-R) mother Sally Bell, father Kim Ledger, and sister Kate Ledger, accept the Oscar for best supporting actor on his behalf for his work in The Dark Knight during the Academy Awards in 2009. (Reuters: Gary Hershorn)
On the circumstances of Heath’s death
“If there was something going around that would end up in a chest, it would end up in his,” he said.
“He was working night shoots for seven days in freezing cold conditions and he had pneumonia, but he was also travelling backwards and forwards from London to the US and seeing doctors on the set, or another doctor he was referred to in London to help him relieve the chest pain — the same in the US.
“In Heath’s case, he mixed some of these drugs for a chest infection with sleeping tablets and that is literally what slowed his system down sufficiently enough to put him to sleep forever.”
On the actor’s access to drugs
“I’d imagine someone with Heath’s profile — he’d turn up to a doctor let’s say in New York and say, I need something for my chest and the guy would go, ‘oh my god, you can have what you want’ and I think that’s another issue,” he said.
“Real-time monitoring would have helped (the doctors) know that he had previously got (the drugs) from somewhere else in New York for argument sake, and would have been able to give the doctors an opportunity to counsel the person a little bit.”
On the pain of losing a son
“Over the years, we have suffered, well why wasn’t somebody there?” he said.
“He was asleep in the morning, the lady who came in to provide him a massage heard him snoring so thought he was still breathing and didn’t wake him up and then after a few hours, he drifted away — so we always wish we could have been there.
“Heath’s passing really just highlights what is happening everywhere, whether it’s by accident and in most cases, it is by accident of course.
“Whether you’re addicted or whether you’re using the substances to overcome some ailment but it’s the availability of it, through the doctors — and doctors are issuing it so people naturally think, not a lot passes the doctor so they think it’s safe, because it’s been issued by a doctor.”
Heath Ledger in Sydney while promoting the American movie 10 Things I Hate About You in 1999. (AAP: Kylee Young)
On real-time prescription monitoring
“By having a real-time monitoring system implemented, it will give doctors an opportunity to prepare themselves for when that patient comes in, and maybe also gives them an opportunity to offer up some kind of counselling and perhaps discover with that client or that patient may be another pathway to try to restore their life to some normality,” he said.
“It does need to be a national approach, the initiative shown by Victoria is wonderful and we just hope that other states in Australia will take a piece of that initiative and push it further for Australia as whole.”
A photograph of Heath Ledger from the movie Brokeback Mountain rests among flowers at a makeshift memorial in front of the New York building where he died. (Reuters)