Kim Ledger is on a mission to warn others about the dangers of the prescription drug abuse that killed his Oscar--winning son.
Heath Ledger died eight years ago after mistakenly taking a combination of several different prescription medications.
At the time of his death Heath Ledger had a busy schedule; working on night shoots for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and travelling between filming locations in Canada and London, and his home in New York. Ledger relied on ambien and opioid painkillers to get to sleep.
"It was the chemical concoction between the ambien and then the various elements of the prescription meds that he was also taking that literally put his system to sleep, forever,” Mr Ledger said.
Mr Ledger now uses his experience to raise awareness of the issue in his role as a patron for Scriptwise, a non-profit organisation that aims to prevent prescription medication misuse. He is speaking at The Cutting Edge addictions conference in Rotorua next week.
The stigma of addiction keeps people from reaching out for help, Mr Ledger said.
“People won’t verbalise it among their friends or families. If they have become addicted, they fear they will be labelled as junkies. They are less likely to talk about the issue.”
A high-pressure lifestyle means athletes and busy professionals are most at risk of a heavy reliance on prescription medications, Mr Ledger says. What is originally a simple prescription for one issue can easily turn into medication misuse.
"If you have to take pain killers to continue you're not listening to your body's message. The body needs time to repair.”
There is no easy fix for the complex problem of medication misuse Mr Ledger says, but he would like to see more money spent in schools to educate kids.
“Children soak up what they see their parents doing, so if we educate our kids at a young age maybe then they will go home and discuss the topic with their parents to help their families become aware of this issue,” he says.