UPDATE: Cocaine a Factor in the Death of Pitchman Billy Mays

An autopsy report released today from the Hillsborough County, Fla. medical examiner states that “from the presence of metabolites of cocaine and the absence of cocaine itself, it was concluded that Mr. Mays used cocaine in the few days prior to his death but not immediately prior to death.” The official cause of death however, remains as “heart attack,”as previously reported.

A statement from the family refutes these findings: “Given the hectic nature and pace of Billy’s life, especially during the past 10 months of his exhaustive travel across the country, it was not surprising to hear that hypertension was the cause of his death. We were totally unaware of any non-prescription drug usage and are actively considering an independent evaluation of the autopsy results.”

Cocaine is a highly additive, powerful stimulant drug. It can be snorted or mixed with water and injected. When mixed with baking soda and broken up into small rock crystals, it can be smoked and is called crack cocaine (from the crackling sound it makes when lit). Taken in small amounts, cocaine usually makes the user feel euphoric, energetic, talkative, and mentally alert. It can also temporarily decrease the need for food and sleep. Physiologically cocaine constricts blood vessels dilates pupils and increases temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Larger amounts of cocaine can cause users to become agitated, erratic and violent.

There can also be severe medical complications associated with cocaine abuse. Some of the most frequent are effects on the heart, including abnormal heart rhythms and heart attacks; Effects on the nervous system include strokes, seizures, headaches, and even coma; Gastrointestinal complications include abdominal pain and nausea.

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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