A Parade of Pill Bottles

The Kennedy family never fails to produce bizarre events.  In the spotlight today is Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert Kennedy, who is on trial for driving – and crashing – her car under the influence of Ambien.

News articles have been focusing today on her rather out-of-place injections of family history into her testimony: who her father was, the fact he had been “the attorney general during the civil rights movement” and “killed while running for president,” (source) that she is one of ten children, that she was raised by a single mother, and…

…who cares? 

How is this possibly relevant?  And her lawyer has the balls to say ‘“She is not seeking any advantage because of her family, but she should not be punished because of that family.”

Then why is she repeatedly talking about her family?

Prescription Confusion?

But there’s a more relevant issue going on at this trial as well: what sort of responsibility should people taking legally proscribed medications be held to?

Kennedy claims she meant to take a medication for a thyroid condition but took the Ambien by mistake.  Both the bottles and the pills look similar although not identical.  She claims she remembers nothing after getting onto the freeway.

Both her and her lawyer insist it was an accident, and if she realized her mistake she never would have gotten behind the wheel.

Ambien is known for causing blackouts as well as sleep-walking, sleep-eating, sleep-driving, etc., so the scenario is not entirely unreasonable.  However, some people take Ambien to get high off of it, (source) which would certainly be the reason if she deliberately took it in the morning.

Oh, did I mention her cousin Patrick Kennedy used the same defense in a crash in 2006?

Responsibility for Prescriptions

Let’s presume she’s telling the truth.  If she’s lying, her guilt is obvious.

Ambien is powerful.  That’s fairly well-known, and it certainly should be known to the Kennedy family.  I know if I had a cousin with such an experience, I would be hesitant in even taking the stuff.

There’s a reason we need prescriptions for these medications: they’re dangerous in any number of different ways.  Used correctly, they absolutely improve people’s quality of life and sometimes even survival.  But they aren’t toys.

I’ve had similar looking pills before.  I make damn sure I’m taking the right one before swallowing.  She says she took it at breakfast after she made herself a cappuccino that takes 15-20 steps to make.  Sweetheart, get a more simple machine.  Also, if making a drink leaves you that distracted, you need adult supervision.

What she’s really saying is she was too busy to be careful, and at some point carelessness becomes negligence.

Personal Experience

I sometimes juggle large number of pills both over the counter and prescription. I just cleaned out the medication cabinet and found a half-dozen expired prescriptions, which I threw out or flushed.  I don’t even recall what some of them are for, in part because they’re all labeled by  generic names.  Seriously, what the hell did I take this for?

(I also threw out expired over-the-counter products, including a box of Alka-Seltzer that expired in 2002, which makes it older than both my marriage and my master’s degree.  That I can blame on my husband.  Also, did you now Band-Aids can go bad?  OMG, they can stink  bad enough people around you might notice.)

Yes, my medical situation is that complicated.  Much of it has to do with complications of the fibromyalgia: digestive issues, concentration issues (what we call fibro-fog), depression, drug sensitivities (which has required us to fairly regularly find alternatives to previously useful drugs)  Some past medications were given for my pain and weakness before we diagnosed the fibro: painkillers, muscle relaxers, and probably more than I don’t remember, none of which work with fibro pain.

Rolling a 1 on Health Checks

If you’re not a role-player, ignore the sub-title.  But the role-players will know what I mean.

Periodically, my body just spectacularly fails.  There’s no underlying condition.  I have no immune deficiency, for example, and we’ve certainly checked.  My health just periodically tells me to piss off and goes on vacation.  Ever been so sick you couldn’t even swallow water without throwing it up?  Been there.  Ever gone from “slightly scratchy throat” to “I don’t want to lift my head from this table” in four hours?  I don’t recommend it.   Did you know they make cough syrup that includes Vicodin?  Me neither: the coughing caused enough pain that the pain triggered more coughing.  Cough syrup alone had done nothing.

Currently I have 3 pills in the morning and 4 at night.  My answer to that is a pill caddy where I can segregate daily doses.  After my mother’s stroke, she had something like 10 different medications taken at all different times during the day, and we got a caddy that had each day divided into four compartments for breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime.

For medications taken “as needed,” we’ve kept logs to avoid overdose.

I’ve also marked certain prescription bottles in Sharpie reminding me what they’re for.  That would have solved Kennedy’s confusion issue.

That’s how you take control of medications.

Knock You on Your Butt Medications

I also have medications that “knock me on my butt,” to paraphrase a doctor.  They are taken at night.  I did have a moment once when I almost took one in the morning, but had I not caught it in time, I would have called in sick.  Absolutely.  Because it knocks me on my butt.

Ambien is fast acting.  Even if Kennedy didn’t realize she had taken it, she would have felt the effects soon.  Just because she can’t remember that time now doesn’t mean she wasn’t aware then.  And if the drug really zones you out to the point you can never notice, then you should be damn sure what you’re doing when you take your meds.

And then, of course, there really is the question of whether it was accidental at all.



  1. I have known of some real horror stories involving Ambien. And this morning, on NPR, I heard a gut-wrenching statistic: the U.S. consumes 80% of the world’s opiate and pain meds—and 99% of the global stocks of hydrocodone! We are one seriously drugged nation. Pain, sleep and mental health management are in a horrific dark age in this country. The pharmaceutical/medical industry have tossed out the Hippocratic oath in favor of a capitalist, easy route, ‘mask it’ model. It’s simply tragic to watch. To me, Kennedy comes from a line with a highly addictive nature—and the medical industry is more than happy to exploit that. Too many people trust that system—why wouldn’t the Kennedys? She’s also on a thyroid med—amazing how many women I know are on thyroid meds. What DID we do all those millennia before pharmaceuticals rode into town to round us up and turn us into chronic slaves?

    1. Author

      To be fair, what we did before pharmaceuticals (and other medical practices) rode into town was die much younger than we do now.

      HIV patients can live decades now. I remember when they were lucky to live 5, and that has everything to do with medicine.

      I agree with your point, though. In France, almost no child with what we would identify as ADHD is on medication. They treat it as a social issue, address the situations the child is in, and treat it counseling. And they say it works.

      Now, maybe both drugs and counseling works – I don’t know, I’m not a doctor – but if counseling at least sometimes works, shouldn’t we do that before putting five-year-olds on pills?

      And I am repeatedly astounded by what people I know have been given Vicodin for. Vicodin has its uses (like when they cut my abdomen open), but people are taking it for all sorts of mundane stuff today.

      And people wonder why we have addicts?

      I joined an online fibro support group once. It lasted all of five minutes. A woman immediately complained that she went to the ER with pain and was outraged that the doctor wanted to examine her rather than just taking her word that the only thing that could be done was give her Percoset.

      And the other members supported her. The doctor was a terrible person because he wanted to do some of the most basic requirements of his job.

      Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick.

      Anytime I get a new med, I want to know what its for (specifically) and whether we’re planning on using it long term or short term. For several years I got down to one medication plus a multivitamin, and I stayed that way for several years. I was elated. But it hasn’t lasted.

      I got a check-up recently, and my doctor asked how the fibro was doing. it was doing fine, and i told here. “Have you considered taking Lyrica?”

      Why the heck would I consider taking a new medication when I just said things wee fine? yes, I’m taking an old school med, but the old school med works. (It also costs $5 for a month’s supply. Lyrica…not so much.

      Lyrica also has a danger of addiction (although I don’t think it’s a huge danger). Amitriptyline does not. I don’t suffer side effects with amitriptyline. So why exactly should I be trying Lyrica?

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