Dying of drug addiction or any addiction issues in your early forties is a tragic thing. The news of “Can’t Buy Me Love” star Amanda Peterson’s premature death due to a cocktail of prescription and other drugs is a learning moment for anyone reading this who dabbles and combines opiates and alcohol, or various pills to manage stress or simply for recreation.
Peterson died July 5. She was 43 years old, married and living in Greeley, Colorado, where she grew up. Peterson reportedly died of an accidental morphine overdose, according to anautopsy report from the Weld County, Colorado, Coroner’s Office. But morphine was one of several drugs she had ingested. According to the Weld County Coroner in Colorado, Peterson had a variety of prescription drugs in her system, including benzodizepines (anti-anxiety meds), opiates and phenothiazines (an anti-psychotic medication). She also had marijuana in her system.
Peterson was prescribed multiple medications at the time of her death, including the pain medication gabapentin for a hysterectomy.
“Based upon a review of the medical records it is apparent that the decedent was naïve to opiates,” the report noted, adding that Peterson had “reported ingesting a ‘friends’ morphine medication for unspecified pain 1 week prior to death.”
“Thus, for unclear reasons it appears that the decedent was attempting to self-medicate her pain at the time of death,” the report said. “The manner of death is accident.”
Monsters and Critics spoke with Dr. Howard Samuels, founder of The Hills Treatment Center. Dr. Samuels, PsyD is a leading drug and alcohol addiction expert. He is the author of a gripping memoir, “Alive Again,” and is a licensed therapist with a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology who specializes in the treatment of a variety of addictive disorders, addictions and substance abuse intervention.
Dr. Samuels said, “Amanda Peterson had a lot of things going against her, sadly. She was an addict/alcoholic, and the combination of both prescribed and the other drugs mixed together ensured her early death. If you are using drugs and drinking too, hopefully you are going to take what is written here very seriously.”
Peterson seemingly had everything going for her early on. She was beautiful and won several roles as a child and young adult performer, including a role in 1982’s “Annie” when she was 9, she was best known for “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the 1987 movie in which she co-starred with Patrick Dempsey. Dempsey plays a geeky high schooler who pays a cheerleader, played by Peterson, $1,000 to be his girlfriend for a month. Her last role came in 1994’s “Windrunner.” Then she started to fade away from Hollywood.
“This death didn’t have to happen,” said Dr. Samuels. “Some clients that I have worked with in the past who did wind up overdosing usually died as a direct result of heroin use and/or a combination of all the drugs that Amanda took. She died because she was an addict. When things are this bad, the addicted person has no comprehension of their precarious situation. And the body ages out, and Amanda was in her forties when the body cannot take the abuse it once did, say, back in your teens or twenties.”
Dr. Samuels himself battled years of drug and alcohol addiction. From the age of sixteen until he was thirty-two, Dr. Samuels had his own intense struggle with addiction to cocaine and heroin. Howard has been clean and sober for 28 years from heroin and cocaine addiction.
“Speaking on a personal level, I was dealt that ‘addict card,’ but I was one of the lucky ones. There’s no reason that I am alive and she didn’t make it, other than personal body chemistry and luck. Treatment is hard work. Staying sober is hard work, but it will keep you from this kind of an early death.”
Dr. Samuels added, “It took me a long time to manage and defeat addiction, and I’m one of the lucky ones. You need to understand that alcohol and Benzos are a lethal combination. Benzos and Opiates are a lethal combination. And as we get older, the chances of surviving these toxic combinations decreases. If Amanda could have been in treatment and become sober, she could have worked on the psychological issues she was struggling with. For lack of proper supervision, therapy and medical care, she just didn’t have a chance.”