Graduate student Benjamin Gupta died from a lethal mix of drugs and alcohol, according to the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
The 28-year-old died in his sleep Dec. 19. Beverly Fields, chief of staff at the medical examiner’s office, said Gupta’s death from "acute mixed drug intoxication" was deemed accidental, and the drugs involved were oxycodone, a prescription pain reliever, and ethanol, or alcohol.
Mixing the two substances is lethal and suppresses the part of the brain that controls respiration, Eugene DeBlasio, a medical expert with the National Medical Consultants, P.C., said. Nerves fail to send impulses from the brain, and an individual’s diaphragm – the main breathing muscle – “just stops working” within about an hour, he said. DeBlasio was not involved in Gupta’s case.
DeBlasio said adding alcohol to narcotics like oxycodone usually produces a “catastrophic result.” While more than two shots of liquor, or four beers, would likely cause a problem, he said any combination of the substances is risky.
“It’s not recommended you take any alcohol at all with oxycodone,” he said. “The reason I say that is some people might be more sensitive and one shot could do it. The answer is no alcohol when you’re taking narcotics, and only take the narcotic at the dosage prescribed.”
Gupta's father, Vinod Gupta, said he was shocked to learn of the combination of oxycodone and alcohol – at a low blood alcohol content level of .04 – in his son's blood, adding that his son did not have a prescription for the drug and it was misuse.
"And from what I understand, it's a huge problem and a lot of young people are dying because of misuse of this prescription drug," he said.
He said former President Bill Clinton, a close friend of the family, plans to discuss prescription drug abuse at the Clinton Global Initiative University conference at GW in March, and is also in talks with CNN about a story on the topic.
"Young people have to be educated on the effect of these prescription drugs, especially with alcohol," Gupta's father said. "We are sad that a young life was wasted with this use of a prescription drug."
The Omaha, Neb. native attended the Phillips Exeter Academy and Boston University, where he earned a bachelor of arts in economics and psychology. In 2007, he served as a staff assistant for then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill.
Gupta, a JD and MBA candidate described by family and friends as an upbeat and inspirational leader, worked under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a coordinator for the State Department’s Global Partnership Initiative.
“He really showed us what a life well-lived would look like,” Hillary Clinton said at a memorial service for Gupta at the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre Jan. 30. “It was just fun working with Ben Gupta, and you know, fun is not always a word associated with the State Department.”