Friday, July 05, 2002

Unprescribed drug causes man's death

Medicines mixed, patient asphyxiated

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — A combination of drugs, including unprescribed methadone, caused the death of an 18-year-old patient at Ten Broeck Hospital last month, according to a toxicology report released by the Jefferson County coroner's office.

        The methadone that Shawn Smith of Brooksville ingested before he died June 9 was smuggled into the mental health center and had been hidden in a spot in an outdoor smoking area for patients, said Ten Broeck spokesman John Hollinsworth.

        He would not comment about how it got into the hospital. Jefferson County police are investigating Mr. Smith's death.

        Mr. Smith was in state custody and living with a foster family in Louisville. His foster parents took him to the clinic after he cut his arms. Ten Broeck has never used the drug to treat patients at the facility, Mr. Hollinsworth said. Methadone is a highly regulated synthetic heroin often used to help heroin addicts recover.

        The drug reacted with four other prescription drugs Mr. Smith was taking for his mental illness, Jefferson County Coroner Richard Greathouse said.

        “It was like putting five firecrackers in a pot and they all go off at once,” Mr. Greathouse said Wednesday.

        The autopsy showed Mr. Smith had inhaled vomit into his windpipe and asphyxiated.

        Mr. Greathouse said Mr. Smith did not have a lethal amount of methadone in his system but had four prescribed drugs in his blood:

        • Depakene, to prevent seizures.

        • Cogentin, to prevent shakiness from other medications.

        • Seroquel, a psychotherapeutic drug that tranquilizes.

        • Zyprexa, an anti-psychotic drug.

        Mr. Greathouse said he has received no word from the hospital explaining Mr. Smith's death. If an explanation isn't offered soon, Mr. Greathouse said he will call an inquest.

        Mr. Hollinsworth said Ten Broeck officials are preparing a report that they will submit to the state Cabinet for Health Services. The state office is in charge of licensing the facility and has opened its own investigation of the death.


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