‘Patriot’ actress Skye McCole Bartusiak’s Cause of Death Revealed

Actress Skye McCole Bartusiak, best known for her role as Mel Gibson’s youngest daughter in The Patriot, died unexpectedly in July at the age of 21. Her mother, Helen McCole Bartusiak, told CNN at the time that Skye had been suffering from epileptic seizures in the days prior to her death. Skye had had seizures as a child. They had disappeared for a few years, but had returned in the week prior to her death. Skye’s boyfriend found the actress sitting up in her bed. Her mother began CPR on her daughter before the arrival of paramedics, who then worked “for 45 minutes” to no avail.

The  Harris County Institute of Forsensic Sciences is now telling People magazine that the autopsy revealed that “The exact cause of death is an accident due to the combined effects of hydrocodone and difluoroethane with carisoprodol.” Hydrocodone is a prescription pain reliever, carisoprodol is a muscle relaxant, and difluoroethane is an volatile substance used in a variety of household products which can have hallucinogenic properties when inhaled.

the-patriot-horizontal-galleryBartusiak had her first acting role at the age of six in the film Cider House Rules.  She also appeared in Don’t Say a Word (2001), 24 (2002-2003), Boogeyman (2005) and Kill Your Darlings (2006). Most recently, she had been preparing to produce and direct her first feature film.

What are inhalants?

Inhalants340Many products readily found in the home or workplace—such as spray paints, markers, glues, and cleaning fluids—contain volatile substances that have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties when inhaled. People do not typically think of these products as drugs because they were never intended for that purpose. However, these products are sometimes abused in that way. They are especially (but not exclusively) abused by young children and adolescents, and are the only class of substance abused more by younger than by older teens.


How Are Inhalants Abused?

Abusers of inhalants breathe them in through the nose or mouth in a variety of ways (known as “huffing”). They may sniff or snort fumes from a container or dispenser (such as a glue bottle or a marking pen), spray aerosols (such as computer cleaning dusters) directly into their nose or mouth, or place a chemical-soaked rag in their mouth. Abusers may also inhale fumes from a balloon or a plastic or paper bag. Although the high produced by inhalants usually lasts just a few minutes, abusers often try to prolong it by continuing to inhale repeatedly over several hours.

People tend to abuse different inhalant products at different ages. New users ages 12–15 most commonly abuse glue, shoe polish, spray paints, gasoline, and lighter fluid. New users ages 16–17 most commonly abuse nitrous oxide or “whippets.” Adults most commonly abuse a class of inhalants known as nitrites (such as amyl nitrites or “poppers”).

How Do Inhalants Affect the Brain?

Most abused inhalants other than nitrites depress the central nervous system in a manner not unlike alcohol. The effects are similar—including slurred speech, lack of coordination, euphoria, and dizziness. Inhalant abusers may also experience light-headedness, hallucinations, and delusions. With repeated inhalations, many users feel less inhibited and less in control. Some may feel drowsy for several hours and experience a lingering headache.

Unlike other types of inhalants, nitrites enhance sexual pleasure by dilating and relaxing blood vessels.

Although it is not very common, addiction to inhalants can occur with repeated abuse.

What Are the Other Health Effects of Inhalants

inhalants harmChemicals found in different types of inhaled products may produce a variety of other short-term effects, such as nausea or vomiting, as well as more serious long-term consequences. These may include liver and kidney damage, hearing loss, or bone marrow damage. Effects may also include loss of coordination and limb spasms due to damage to myelin—a protective sheathing around nerve fibers that helps nerves transmit messages in the brain and peripheral nervous system. Inhalants can also cause brain damage by cutting off oxygen flow to the brain.

Inhalants can even be lethal. Sniffing highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can directly cause heart failure within minutes. This syndrome, known as “sudden sniffing death,” can result from a single session of inhalant use by an otherwise healthy young person. High concentrations of inhalants may also cause death from suffocation, especially when inhaled from a paper or plastic bag or in a closed area. Even when using aerosols or volatile products for their legitimate purposes like painting or cleaning, it is wise to do so in a well-ventilated room or outdoors.
Source: National Institute of Drug Abuse

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

1 Comment

  1. Kevin Li

    October 18, 2014 at 12:15 am

    The unexpected death of any young person is tragic. Yet what makes the death of a celebrity more disastrous is the fact that the celebrity oftentimes serves as a role model. With a seemingly regular stream of celebrity deaths caused by some form of substance abuse, there is the dangerous possibility that these accidental deaths are part of a norm. What impresses me about this site is how these tragedies are used to convey important information regarding the dangerous physical effects of these substances. In this case, Dr. Berman describes some of the health effects of inhalants, a group of substances linked to the death of Skye McCole Bartusiak.

    The educational nature of these articles reminds me of the efforts of physicians to validate themselves as medical authorities during the genesis of the modern medical profession. Before doctors finished establishing themselves as trustworthy health experts, they had to convince the general population of their authenticity. To do so, they appeared to be learned in the health sciences by actively conducting research and spreading knowledge amongst themselves. While the general population saw little of the results of that research, it was apparent that their physicians were actively pursuing knowledge. Therefore, the authority of a physician rests partially on his or her ability to obtain knowledge and disseminate it. That aspect of being a doctor remains today, as seen in this post that serves to educate readers about the harmful effects of inhalants. The educational aspect of medicine continues to turn tragic events, such as the death of a young woman, into an opportunity to learn and teach others. In doing so, hopefully more people will be made aware of the fatal effects of specific kinds of substance abuse.

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