Friday, September 9, 2011

Drug overdose and American professional wrestling

     For nearly three decades there has been an epidemic of American professional wrestlers dying young.   A frequent cause of death has been drug overdose.  A summary of the recent data from the United States poisoning centers revealed the following data about drug overdose: (1)

  • 95% of episodes caused minor/reversible effects.
  • 92% were due to acute rather than chronic ingestion.
  • 92% involved a single substance.
  • 85% were unintentional. 
  • 59% of fatalities occur in individuals ages 20 to 49 years old. 
  • 47% involved prescription drugs.

     During the 1980's cocaine was a popular drug used by American professional wrestlers.  Cocaine is found in the leaves of the coca plant, which is abundant in parts of South America.  It can be consumed intravenously, orally, intranasally, and by smoking.  Users are at high risk for abuse and dependence.

Gino Hernandez
     Acute intoxication of cocaine can lead to a number of complications including myocardial infarction, cardiac arrhythmias, heart failure, hypertension, stroke, seizures, and muscle breakdown leading to kidney failure.  It has been reported that professional wrestlers Charles Wolfe (Gino Hernandez), Curt Hennig, and Scott Bigelow (Bam Bam Bigelow) died from cocaine intoxication.

     The 1990's saw the use of gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and carisoprodol (Soma) increase among American professional wrestlers.  GHB is classified as a central nervous system depressant and is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of cataplexy and excessive sleepiness in narcolepsy.  GHB can increase the body's secretion of growth hormone and for this reason some athletes use it.  A common side effect is drowsiness.  It is the ingredient in the so-called "date-rape drug".  Nonprescription use of GHB has been reported to result in respiratory depression, coma, and death.

Louie Spicolli
     Soma is classified as a muscle relaxant.  It is recommended that it only be used short term (2 to 3 weeks) for treatment of musculoskeletal pain because of a lack of established benefit long term.  A significant side effect is excessive drowsiness.  Sedating effects are increased when mixed with other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol.  The professional wrestler Louis Muccolo, Jr. (Louie Spicolli) died from an overdose of Soma.

     The last decade has seen a rise in deaths due to prescription opioids which are commonly used for pain management.  The death of Bobby Duncan, Jr. was linked to fentanyl.  Sherri Schrull's (Sheri Martel) and Gertrude Herd-Nash's ( Luna Vachon) deaths were connected to use of oxycodone.

     Below is a list of American professional wrestlers from the National and Modern eras whose deaths were attributed to drug overdose.

    Miss Elizabeth
    • David Adkission (David Von Erich)  2/10/84.
    • Rick McGraw  11/1/85.
    • Charles Wolfe (Gino Hernandez)  2/2/86.
    • Bruce Woyan (Buzz Sawyer)  2/7/92.
    • Arthur Barr (Art Barr)  11/23/94.
    • Herb Abrams  7/23/96.
    • Louis Muccolo Jr. (Louie Spicolli)  2/15/98.
    • Richard Rood (Rick Rude)  4/20/99.
    • Bobby Duncum Jr.  1/24/00.
    • Randy Anderson  5/5/02.
    • Elizabeth Hulette (Miss Elizabeth)  5/1/03.
    • Alex Rizzo (Big Dick Dudley)  5/16/03.
    • Curtis Hennig (Mr. Perfect/Curt Hennig) 2/10/03.
    • Anthony Durante  (Pit Bull #2)  9/25/03.
    • Michael Durham (Johnny Grunge)  2/16/06.
    • Joseph Magliano (Joey Maggs)  10/15/06.
    • Scott Bigelow (Bam Bam Bigelow)  1/19/07.
    • Sherri Schrull (Sheri Martel)  6/15/07.
    • Brian Adams  (Crush) 8/13/07.
    • Chase Tatum  3/23/08.
    • Gertrude Hurd-Nash (Luna Vachon)  8/27/10.
    • Michael Verdi (Trent Acid)  6/18/10.

      References:

      1. Am J Emerg Med 2002; 20(5): 391.


      The medical resource www.uptodate.com was used in the preparation of this blog.


      Photographs are for illustrative purposes only.  Wrestling with Death does not claim ownership.

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