Comedian Patton Oswalt released a statement earlier this week regarding his wife’s cause of death. Oswalt’s wife, writer Michelle McNamara, died unexpectedly at the age of 46 in April of last year.
The reason behind McNamara’s passing was not immediately known. The couple shared a now seven-year-old daughter, and McNamara had been working on a non-fiction true crime book at the time of her death. She died in her sleep at the family’s home in Los Angeles.
While her cause of death is still officially listed as pending, Oswalt revealed that coroner officials have informed him, after testing and investigation, that her death occurred as a result of blockages in her heart, along with a combination of several substances, including Adderall, Xanax, and fentanyl.
Quoted by the Associated Press, Oswalt stated that, “We learned today the combination of drugs in Michelle’s system, along with a condition we were unaware of, proved lethal.”
Shortly after his wife’s passing, Oswalt penned a moving open letter for Time that served as beautiful portrait of her life. Within his tribute, Oswalt describes the woman he loved, her enormous talent for writing, and her “joyous, wicked curiosity.”
Prior to the completion of toxicology testing, Oswalt speculated that her death may have been the result of an overdose. She had been grappling with anxiety related to the true crime book she was working on, and had been having difficulty sleeping. The night of her passing, to Oswalt’s knowledge, she had taken some Xanax to fall asleep.
The next morning, she did not wake up.
The lethal combination of drugs has now come to light. Traces of a stimulant (Adderall), a benzodiazepine tranquilizer (Xanax), and an extremely potent opioid (fentanyl) were found in McNamara’s system. Her undiagnosed heart condition may have played a role in the substances’ interactions, although the specific details of her condition remain unknown.
Accidental overdoses of prescription opioids accounted for more than 15,000 deaths in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Potent and lethal “drug cocktails,” such as the one that McNamara took, have contributed to the deaths of other incredibly talented public figures such as Prince, Michael Jackson, and Heath Ledger—just to name a few.
The risks of prescription drug misuse are harrowing. Many individuals have underlying conditions that are not revealed until it is too late. Overdose occurs quickly—and all too often, fatally. Understanding the risks involved and heeding FDA warnings regarding drug interactions is of the utmost importance.
The heartbreaking aftermath of an overdose-related death is enduring—and affects all loved ones left behind.
In an essay for GQ, published in December, Oswalt reflected upon life without McNamara. “I was looking forward to spending my life with the single most original mind I’d ever encountered. And now? Gone. All gone,” he said.
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