On August 17, 2003, rock legend Ozzy Osbourne was invited to Wrigley Field to sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the seventh-inning stretch of a Chicago Cubs game. What ensued was a garbled-up, unintelligible rendition of the famous song so bad that Osbourne went down as the worst Wrigley singer in history. Over the next few days, the scene was replayed on national television, making a mockery of the mumbling singer. That incident, said Osbourne’s manager-wife Sharon, was the last straw; she claimed that Ozzy’s doctor was overprescribing him a host of powerful antipsychotic and tranquilizing drugs, which contributed to his bizarre behavior.
Osbourne isn’t the first celebrity to have battled with a prescription drug addiction, and his doctor isn’t the first to overprescribe drugs to addicts. We live in a pill-popping society where instant gratification is the minimum requirement. Studies show that in 2010, 2.4 million Americans 12 years or older began using prescription drugs for the first time for nonmedical reasons. Overprescription is an epidemic and celebrities aren’t the only victims. Their public lives are only a window into a world where problems are solved with a quick pill down the throat, and tons of side effects.
Ozzy Osbourne was born John Michael Osbourne on December 3, 1948 in Birmingham, England and is famously known as the lead singer of the English hard-rock band Black Sabbath. He left the band at the height of its popularity to pursue a solo career, which became a commercial success. Throughout the 1980s, he maintained his image of a troubled loner, a social misfit, and an angry rebel, becoming notorious for showering his audiences with meat, biting the head off of a live bat that was thrown to him during his “Diary of a Madman” tour, and getting arrested for urinating on the Alamo. He continued to release albums in the 1990s, but his celebrity was starting to wane and he continued to struggle with substance abuse. Osbourne regained his popularity in 2002 through the unlikely success of the hit MTV reality television show The Osbournes. The show featured Osbourne and his family, including Sharon and their 2 children, Kelly and Jack, as cameras followed them throughout their rather mundane lives. Each week, Osbourne seemed to be in a perpetual stupor, slurring his words to the point of incoherence. In episodes, the singer struggled to maintain control. He once passed out during a party at the Beverly Hills Hotel and, in another instance, he struggled to swat a fly in his dining room, only to slap himself in the face.
Osbourne claims that he was overprescribed an array of tranquilizing drugs by his Beverly Hills physician, David Kipper, contributing to a 42-pill-a-day habit that caused his babbling behavior on the hit reality series. The rock star said he was prescribed Valium, Dexedrine, Mysoline, and other powerful drugs that medical experts say are not proper for any one patient to take at one time. "I was wiped out on pills," said Osbourne, who fired Kipper more than a year after becoming his patient. "I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t walk. I could barely stand up. I was lumbering about like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It got to the point where I was scared to close my eyes at night afraid I might not wake up." Osbourne claims that he originally sought out Dr. Kipper in 2002 to help kick a dependence on prescription narcotics and was even successfully treated with a 10-day detoxification regimen. However, when Sharon was diagnosed with colon cancer, the singer turned to Kipper again and his prescription dependency was renewed. Kipper began prescribing him a number of medications that he said would alleviate Osbourne’s anxiety and depression. At one point, Osbourne was on 13 different medications. Medical experts who reviewed the rocker’s prescription regimen say they cannot make definitive judgments without knowing his medical history, but agree that the amount of drugs he was on was certainly excessive for any patient.
Kipper has been investigated for overprescribing medications to other celebrity patients, but denies any allegations against him. Osbourne admitted that he liked Kipper, but realized that he was just under his spell. "Looking back on it now, I see Dr. Kipper as sort of a friendly villain," Osbourne said. "He comes off as a really nice guy—that is, until you get the bill."
Osbourne’s case is just one instance out of thousands, if not millions, where doctors are overprescribing to their patients. Recovering addicts and people with a genetic disposition to addictive illnesses are especially vulnerable. "We’re in a middle of an opioid epidemic," says Ben Levenson, founder of Origins Recovery Center, a rehab center in Texas. "What’s interesting to know is that it’s not just an opioid epidemic, it’s a prescription opioid epidemic." Recovering addicts can succumb to what Levenson calls “prescription pad relapse,” where the addict rebounds from an alcohol or illegal drug addiction with a prescription medication. "Addicts can never safely use intoxicants whether they’re prescription or not in recovery and be guaranteed to stay sober," he said.
Health care, unfortunately, has turned into a business. People are conditioned through the media and through the bombardment of ads to think that there’s a cure for everything with a pill instead of old-fashioned diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes. Doctors are often too quick to prescribe drugs and, as a result, people become exposed to their dangerous side effects, harming them more than they are curing them.
In a 2009 interview with the Daily Mail, Osbourne admitted that money can pretty much buy any prescription drug you’d like. “I was hooked on them pills for a long time, and I’d bullshit the doctors to get whatever I wanted,” he said. “You name it, I had it. In California, if you are a celebrity, you will find someone who will say, ‘Okay, yeah.’” Osbourne went on to say that hotel doctors were the easiest to get prescription drugs from. When he was on the road, he would take an old pill bottle to doctors and tell them that he’d run out, and they would give him another 50 pills. But according to Levenson, it’s not just corrupt doctors who are overprescribing to addicts. "You have these well-intentioned physicians who don’t have a clue about the neurochemistry of addiction, who are literally causing a prescription pad relapse,” he said.
So how can doctors help the cause instead of worsening it? For starters, doctors are urged to think beyond drugs, such as considering nondrug therapy, treatable underlying causes, and prevention. Doctors should also practice more strategic prescribing, maintain heightened vigilance regarding adverse effects, and exercise caution when it comes to new drugs. However, as it’s highly unlikely that doctors will suddenly start prescribing more responsibly, it’s up to the patients to be responsible for their own health. The best weapons against prescription drug addiction are treatment for those who have already succumbed and education for everybody else.
- Collins D. Osbourne overprescribed? CBS News website. December 9, 2003. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/osbourne-overprescribed/.
- Johnston J. ‘I could end up like Michael Jackson’: Ozzy Osbourne on his battle with prescription drugs. Daily Mail website. Updated October 23, 2009. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1221894/I-end-like-Michael-Jackson-Ozzy-Osbourne-battle-prescription-drugs.html.
- Lee Y. Celebrity overdoses: deaths highlight prescription drug epidemic. Huffington Post website. Updated August 28, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/26/celebrity-overdoses-deaths-prescription-drugs_n_1831731.html.
- New research finds doctors are massively overprescribing drugs. Mercola website. July 2, 2011. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/07/02/new-study-finds-doctors-are-massively-overprescribing-drugs.aspx.
- Ozzy Osbourne biography. Biography website. http://www.biography.com/people/ozzy-osbourne-9542457#the-osbournes&.