Heath Ledger's death through an accidental overdose of prescription drugs illustrates a rise in home medication, according to a new study.

The Dark Knight star was found dead in his New York City apartment on January 22nd having ingested a fatal combination of sleeping tablets and painkillers.

And the Australian actor's tragic death - at just 28 years old - exemplifies the fatal dangers of asking patients to monitor their own medication, according to researchers at the University of California in San Diego.

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine journal found a 3,196 per cent rise in fatal domestic medication errors involving alcohol and/or street drugs in a 21-year-period.

"Increasingly, people take their medications at home, away from hospitals and clinics," said principal author David P Phillips, professor of sociology at the university.

"But most studies of fatal medication errors have focused on those clinical settings.

"We wanted to know three things: how many of these fatal errors happen at home; how many involve alcohol and/or street drugs; and are these numbers going up?"

From examining nearly 50 million US death certificates from 1983 to 2004, the team found a 3,196 per cent rise in the number of deaths at home caused by combining medications with alcohol and/or street drugs.

Domestic medication fatalities which did involve alcohol or street drugs rose by 564 per cent in the same period while non-domestic medication fatalities involving alcohol and/or street drugs climbed by 555 per cent.

"Domestic fatal medication errors, combined with alcohol and/or street drugs, have become an increasingly important health problem," said the team.

"The decades-long shift in the location of medication consumption from clinical to domestic settings," the authors commented, "is linked to a dramatic increase in fatal medication errors."

29/07/2008 00:01:01