Death of TV Pitchman Billy May: Cocaine a Contributing Factor

The Hillsborough County Florida medical examiner’s office reported Friday that cocaine use contributed to TV pitchman Billy Mays’ heart disease and was a contributing factor in his death at age 50 in June 2009.

“Mays died from a lethal arrhythmia of the heart caused by hypertensive and arteriosclerotic heart disease,” the county said in a statement attributed to Dr. Leszek Chrostowski, the associate medical examiner who conducted the autopsy.

“He further concluded that cocaine use caused or contributed to the development of his heart disease, and therefore contributed to his death,” it added.

The fact that toxicology tests detected only breakdown products of cocaine, not the drug itself, which indicates Mays had used cocaine in the few days prior to death, but not immediately prior to death. Excessive or prolonged use can cause itching, tachycardia, hallucinations, and paranoid delusions. Cocaine abuse doubles both the risks of hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes

Overdoses that result in mild-to-moderate tachycardia may be initially treated with 20 mg of orally administered diazepam or equivalent benzodiazepine (eg: 2 mg lorazepam).

Cocaine is a stimulant that can raise blood pressure, cause arrhythmias and thicken the wall of the left ventricle of the heart, one of the organ’s four main pumping chambers. Cocaine can cause coronary artery spasms which lead to a myocardial infarction. May’s autopsy showed coronary artery spasms probably were not the case with Billy May, since metabolic breakdown products of cocaine were found.

The United States is the world’s largest consumer of cocaine, where it is sold at huge markups; usually in the US at $50–$75 for 1 gram (or a “fitty rock”), and $125–200 for 3.5 grams (1/8th of an ounce, or an “eight ball”). Organized criminal gangs operating on a large scale dominate the cocaine trade. Most cocaine is grown and processed in South America, particularly in Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, and smuggled into the United States and Europe, t

The autopsy also found low concentrations of ethanol consistent with social consumption of a few beverages as well as the narcotic drugs hydrocodone, oxycodone and tramadol. Mays had prescriptions for the drugs — which were found in therapeutic or subtherapeutic concentrations — to ease hip pain.

In addition, the tests found evidence of two tranquilizers — alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium) — which are commonly prescribed for a variety of ailments, including anxiety and insomnia. Both drugs were determined to be in therapeutic or subtherapeutic concentrations — not overdosed.

See also …
CIA Field Listing — Illicit Drugs