On Friday afternoon, the specific cause of death of actor Matthew Perry, best known for his role as Chandler Bing on the NBC sitcom Friends, was released, and the drug found in Perry’s blood is one against which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning only days before Perry died.
The Death of a Beloved Star
Just after 4:00 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, October 28, emergency personnel were dispatched to the 18000 block of Blue Sail Drive in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles in response to a 911 call placed to report a possible cardiac arrest. When they arrived, they discovered the lifeless body of actor Matthew Perry in the jacuzzi located in his backyard.
At the time, officers with the Los Angeles Police Department reportedly found no drugs at the scene of the death investigation, and the department said no foul play was suspected. Almost immediately, however, some of Perry’s friends, family, and fans began to worry that other things might have played a role in the actor’s untimely death.
An Autopsy Report is Completed
On Friday afternoon, the long-awaited toxicology reports in Perry’s death investigation were finally available, and the coroner’s report about the cause of the actor’s death was revealed.
According to the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s report per The New York Times, Perry died from “the acute effects of ketamine.” The report also stated that drowning, coronary artery disease, and the effects of an opioid–buprenorphine–had also contributed to Perry’s death.
Ketamine is a “powerful anesthetic” that has become more and more popular among patients and healthcare providers in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other psychiatric disorders. It is also sometimes used recreationally.
According to the autopsy report, Perry had been receiving ketamine infusion therapy. However, it states that the ketamine detected in Perry’s system couldn’t have been from his most recent infusion, which took place approximately ten days before his death.
A Serious Warning Just Days Before Perry’s Death
In October of this year, days before Perry’s death, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an alert warning the public about the potential dangers of treating various psychiatric disorders with compounded versions of ketamine.
In the first bullet point of the warning, the FDA, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, states that ketamine “is not FDA-approved for the treatment of any psychiatric disorder.” That includes depression and other disorders.
As part of the warning, the FDA acknowledges that “compounded ketamine products have been marketed for a wide variety of psychiatric disorders [such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder],” but the administration reiterated that it has “not determined that ketamine is safe and effective for such uses.”
The FDA notice continues as follows:
“Compounded drugs, including compounded ketamine products, are not FDA approved, which means the FDA has not evaluated their safety, effectiveness, or quality prior to marketing. Therefore, compounded drugs do not have any FDA-approved indications or routes of administration. Although compounded drugs can serve an important medical need for certain patients when an FDA-approved drug is not medically appropriate, they also present a risk to patients and should only be used under the care of a health care provider.”
According to the Food and Drug Administration, there are numerous safety concerns associated with the use of “ketamine products,” including the abuse and misuse of the drug, psychiatric events, an increase in a patient’s blood pressure, slowed breathing, also referred to as respiratory depression, urinary tract symptoms and issues with the bladder.
“Despite increased interest in the use of compounded ketamine,” the FDA warning reads, “we are not aware of evidence to suggest that it is safer, is more effective, or works faster than medications that are FDA approved for the treatment of certain psychiatric disorders.”
It’s important to note that though the Los Angeles County coroner stated in the autopsy report that the levels of ketamine detected in the late actor’s blood could not have been left over from his most recent infusion session, Perry’s death has been ruled an accident and not a suicide.
The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner said in the autopsy report that Matthew Perry also drowned in “the heated end of his pool,” but that it was a secondary factor in his Oct. 28 death, deemed an accident. https://t.co/Ns8WcgjEDp
— Spectrum News 1 SoCal (@SpecNews1SoCal) December 15, 2023
Perry’s Struggles With Drugs & Alcohol
Perry was not quiet about his battles with substance abuse and alcohol addiction. The actor admitted that he had used and abused Xanax, OxyContin, Dilaudid, methadone, buprenorphine/suboxone, cocaine, vodka, and other substances. At one point, he was taking 55 Vicodin each day. The actor admitted that his multiple brushes with death had come because of his addictions to painkillers.
In his book Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, Perry wrote that he went through detox nearly 70 times, and during the course of his adult life, Perry spent close to $9 million attempting to finally get sober.
We continue to extend our sympathy to Matthew Perry’s friends, family, and fans during this difficult time.