George Hickenlooper Died After an Accidental Overdose

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Aldo Mauro
The Denver Medical Examiner's Office attributed George Hickenlooper's death to "intoxication on a combination of ethanol and oxymorphone," The Associated Press reports

Ethanol is a byproduct of alcohol, and oxymorphone is a key opioid ingredient in painkillers, not unlike morphine. We confirmed with a St. Louis City Medical Examiner's Office official that in plainspeak, Hickenlooper's death was ushered in with the classic combination of pills and alcohol. Some outlets have erroneously reported that the cause of death was ethanol and alcohol and oxymorphone, but that's needlessly redundant.

The St. Louisan and Casino Jack director died in his sleep in Denver on October 30. He was 47 years old. (Read his obituary, by Kristen Hinman in The Riverfront Times.)  

Dr. John Carver, the assistant medical examiner in Denver who examined Hickenlooper's body, was unavailable for comment today. We'll update you if we hear from him at a later date. 

By mixing alcohol and a prescription painkiller like Opana (the name used to market oxymorphone in the U.S.) the filmmaker's breathing was slowed and his central nervous system affected. The medical examiner concluded that this, in combination with Hickenlooper's long-time sleep apnea and a moderately enlarged heart, took his life.

Today, Colorado Governor-elect John Hickenlooper, a cousin of George, released a statement through his office: "This was a tragedy and a profound loss for the Hickenlooper family and all of George's friends."

Other Hickenlooper family members have not responded to requests for comment.

Opana is used as a treatment for chronic pain. When testing the medication, the drug's manufacturers found that combining ethanol (alcohol) with the drug ups the concentration of oxymorphone in the blood by about 70 percent -- which can be a dangerous level. 

From the Opana website (emphasis ours):
Oxymorphone may be expected to have additive effects when used in conjunction with alcohol, other opioids, or illicit drugs that cause central nervous system depression, hypotension, and profound sedation, coma, or death may result.

Patients must not consume alcoholic beverages, or prescription or nonprescription medications containing alcohol, while on OPANA ER therapy. The co-ingestion of alcohol with OPANA ER may result in increased plasma levels and a potentially fatal overdose of oxymorphone.

The full results of the autopsy will not be released for another eight to twelve weeks. We'll update when we know more.

Related Story: Denver Westword reports on Hickenlooper's death with information from the Denver Coroner's Office.
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