M Von Holden/Getty Images
M Von Holden/Getty Images
Despite subtle differences in language, a medical expert tells E! News that the "multiple drug intoxication" listed today's coroner report is the same factor that caused the deaths of Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, DJ AM and Anna Nicole Smith.
"There is really no difference between 'acute multiple drug intoxication' and 'acute intoxication' and 'multiple drug intoxication,' " Dr. Joshua Perper of the Broward County Medical Examiner's office explains. "It's up to each medical examiner to decide exactly how to describe it."
Perper, best know for conducting the autopsy on Anna Nicole Smith (ruled the result of "acute combined drug intoxication"), also reveals that Murphy's pneumonia may have been the result of drug use.
"What happens when some individuals take drugs [is that] they pass out. And they can become comatose," he explains. "Or they can vomit, or they can aspirate, or have mucus accumulating in their lungs for hours, and this might trigger an episode of pneumonia—especially if they're very thin."
The Los Angeles coroner said the 32-year-old actress's sudden death was accidental, the result of "community-acquired" pneumonia along with the complicating factors of drug intoxication and iron-deficiency anemia.
"Community-acquired" refers to the fact that Murphy had not been recently hospitalized or stayed in a medical facility.
While anemia is also listed, Perper says it's unlikely that the condition weakened her immune system or played any substantial role in her death. (In severe cases, however, it can cause fatigue and a rapid pulse.)
Perper also says the determination that Murphy's death was an accident rather than a suicide is based on circumstantial evidence uncovered during the medical examiner's investigation.
"If the levels [of the drugs] are very high, then the possibility of suicide becomes higher," he says. "They would do an investigation into medical records to find out if she has a history of depression. And then they would look at the circumstances before her death—did she have a very depressing experience?"
Murphy's complete autopsy and toxicology reports will not be ready for approximately two more weeks. Perper says that until more detailed information about the specific drugs and their levels in her body comes to light, it's impossible to determine whether she suffered from an overdose or fatal drug interaction.
E! Online recalls the key moments in her life in our Remembering Brittany Murphy gallery.