Heath Ledger's family and friends celebrated his life at the actor's favorite Australian beach this past weekend. What makes Heath's death so tragic is that it didn't have to happen. Prescription drug abuse among stars has increasingly become more of an issue, but are doctors bending the rules? Access investigates VIP Docs.
"Well I think we need to understand that all of us are fans," Dr. Joseph Haraszti told Access Hollywood. "Doctors are no different from anyone else."
Celebrities can experience a VIP effect when obtaining medication. Even for physicians, it's not easy to tell these powerful people no.
Highly respected Dr. Haraszti, a medical director at a Hollywood hospital, who also works in the department of psychiatry at USC, fell into the trap of catering to stars when he first began practicing in Hollywood over 20 years ago.
"I can remember instances where I got drawn into this web," he explained. "It begins very subtly. They begin to call you by your first name, they want to go out, they want to take you out to lunch or whatever and it can be very flattering. But a physician must keep his or her boundaries. Otherwise, we can not help them. We become enablers and we do more harm than good."
It is a problem that dates back to stars like Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, both of who died from prescription drug complications while under a doctor's care.
Many believe Anna Nicole Smith was too friendly with both of her prescribing physicians.
Dr. Sandeep Kapoor is one of two doctors under investigation for allegedly improperly prescribing drugs, including methadone, to Anna Nicole - a charge he denies.
The doctor, who was captured in a snap, partying with Anna at a gay pride parade in 2005 admitted to a close relationship with his patient.
"I was a physician, but I also became her friend," Kapoor previously told Access.
Anna may have been even closer to her other doctor, Khristine Erosevich, also under investigation, who allegedly prescribed Anna medication under a different name. She denies this.
Anna's bodyguard Big Moe claims Erosevich was not immune to the lure of celebrity.
"I think she's a very nice woman who got manipulated really, really bad," Big Moe told Access. "Saying you know, 'Anna really likes you, this, that and the other, so we need you to really look out for us for, by giving her, the things that she need as far as medication and stuff like that. She was very worried about losing her license."
Dr. Jules Mark Lusman did lose his license back in 2002 when it was revealed he was over-prescribing painkillers and narcotics to his patients, who included Courtney Love and Winona Ryder.
In fact, Winona only got some of her drugs from Dr. Lusman. Practicing an increasingly popular phenomenon known as "doctor shopping," Winona had 37 prescriptions filled by 20 doctors in a three-year period.
"Right now we don't have a central data bank that keeps records of what type of medication has been prescribed from what doctor to whom," Dr. Haraszti said. "There's opposition to that by civil rights groups because it's a privacy issue. On the other hand, without something like that, a physician really does not know whether or not a celebrity or any of his other patients are receiving drugs from multiple doctors."
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