The disgraced Alex Murdaugh faced a jury on March 2nd, 2023 that found him guilty of all counts including the murder of his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, and his son, Paul Murdaugh. Murdaugh made national headlines as the murder case was highly publicized, airing out the former South Carolina’s dirty laundry including his use of drugs and embezzlement from his own law firm. Murdaugh owned several properties, including one in Colleton County, South Carolina used as a hunting lodge for himself and his family. It was there that his son and wife were found shot to death in June 2021. Only months later, Alex Murdaugh would also be shot in the head while he claimed he was changing a tire on the side of the road in September of 2021, surviving the incident. It is now determined he is also guilty of his own shooting in an attempt to arrange his death so that his life insurance payout could be collected by his son, Buster, who is his only surviving son. Murdaugh’s extreme behavior can be linked to a series of events; however, his use of opioids came under examination at trial as he testified to using large amounts daily.

Murdaughs attorneys in his murder case, glazed over what they called his struggle with addiction that led to manipulative behavior. Murdaugh’s own testimony painted a very dangerous opioid addiction in which he claimed to take 60 pills of oxycodone a day! He attributed much of his embezzlement to aid his drug use, claiming he stole over 10 million dollars to help fuel his drug habits. Murdaugh claimed a college football knee injury he had surgery to heal, led to the use of the pain medication, oxycodone and quickly became out of control. It was then that Murdaugh accessed vast amounts of pills through his drug dealing cousin, Curtis “Eddie” Smith. He was hooked and there was no turning back. The most shocking claim Murdaugh made about his drug use was the amounts he was taking per day – 60 oxycodone pills per day, could anyone really survive taking that large of an amount though? The answer in short is yes, and below we will examine more about the drug and what leads to large amounts being tolerable for some.

Opioids are highly addictive and we currently stand in a global opioid crisis with astonishing numbers of overdoses due to opioid drugs like oxycodone, fentanyl, and heroin. Oxycodone is classified as an opioid and is a powerful prescribed pain medication, produced in laboratories from thebaine, a natural substance found in opium poppy plants. Common uses for oxycodone include after surgery for pain relief or even for cancer. It binds to the brain and spinal cord receptors and then results in a perception of a reduction of pain. When taken out of context as prescribed by a health care professional, oxycodone can have adverse effects and even cause overdose. The side effects of oxycodone abuse and dangers associated with it include:

  • Drug addiction: When used for an extended period or mis-used, oxycodone addiction can start and lead to compulsive drug abuse.
  • Withdrawal: Symptoms of withdrawal can be severe for those stopping the use of oxycodone. Withdrawal symptoms include: vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, anxiety, and insomnia.
  • Overdose: Respiratory depression caused by overdosing on oxycodone can have serious consequences, resulting in brian damage, coma or death. This is likely to occur when taking the drug in large amounts or combining the drug with other substances or alcohol.
  • Drug tolerance: Overdose is more likely when those who use oxycodone develop a tolerance to the effects it has. This causes the users to crave higher amounts of the drug in order to experience its effects, increasing the risk of overdose.

In Murdaugh’s case, his use of a whopping 60 oxycodone pills plus a day clearly points to his increased tolerance of the drug. His long-term, out of control drug use contributed to the development of an opioid addiction. Cognitive impairment is likely with opioid use and can harm memory, decision making, and attention as well as increase the chance of mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Murdaugh told jurors that his drug use “made everything better,” and claimed to have more energy while using opioids. His excessive use was really more so helping him stabilize because he had built such a high tolerance to the drug, that what would cause the average person to go into overdose, was only helping him maintain. Murdaugh told the Court he was taking oxycodone as soon as he would awake in the day to combat withdrawals and help his functioning. Although Murdaugh’s opioid use disorder is not directly linked to the murders of his wife and son, his addiction issue is thought to have increased his irrational behaviors. The prosecutor in Murdaugh’s murder case, Creighton Waters, questioned Murdaugh about his family’s knowledge of his drug problem including his son Paul who was one of the murder victims. In May of 2021 Paul had left Murdaugh a voicemail that spoke of bags of pills being found by Paul’s Mother, Maggie.

At the time, Murdaugh described discussing his possession of pills with Maggie and Paul and assuring them he would stop using after finishing up another lawsuit that involved his boat being crashed by his son which lead to the death of Mallory Beach, his son’s girlfriend in 2019. His son was under the influence at the time of Mallory’s death and his son was driving the boat. Murdaugh’s life continued to domino downhill as his law firm confronted him about possible embezzlement and misuse of funds. The murder of his wife and son deeply brought Murdaugh’s character into question as he claimed not to be there when both Maggie and Paul were shot, yet footage from Paul’s phone captured Murdaugh’s voice in the background. It is a chilling series of events that capture just how far drug use may contribute to distorting one’s perception of right and wrong.

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