Pain relief patch overdose suspected
A paraplegic woman is believed to have died when her pain relief medication accidentally released a lethal overdose through an adhesive patch.
Sharyn Lynam, 49, was pronounced dead at Palmerston North Hospital on June 26.
A toxicology report found she had a concoction of prescribed drugs in her system, though a pathologist believes the one that killed her was fentanyl. She had been taking the opioid in a patch to combat excruciating pain.
Ms Lynam was paralysed from the chest down in a motor vehicle accident 10 years ago. She was under fulltime care and needed to be turned every four hours.
A coroner's decision, published yesterday, says her carers found her unresponsive, with blue lips, and performed CPR shortly before midday.
She was taken to hospital but pronounced dead in the emergency department.
Blood toxicology results found the cause of death was potential drug poisoning from four different prescription medicines that Ms Lynam took routinely.
Three of the drugs were "at levels consistent with therapeutic use".
However, fentanyl was found at 27 micrograms per litre of blood. This reading was similar to those found in another 27 deaths attributable to fentanyl "intoxication" after the use of adhesive skin patches.
An ESR spokesman said last night that he understood the 27 deaths had occurred overseas and been identified in a Canadian study.
After an autopsy on Ms Lynam, MidCentral Health District Health Board pathologist Kate White contacted coroner Tim Scott to explain the results. She told the coroner that, although fentanyl toxicology was in her view "borderline", it was the only reasonable cause of death that she could attribute.
"She indicated that when patches are used to release a drug, the amount released can vary, especially if there is a change in temperature, ie, if a patient was sitting near a heater," the coroner's decision says.
"Dr White's `take' was that the higher level of fentanyl was probably attributable to an increased release level from the patches – for reasons unknown. She indicated that, in effect, this would amount to an accidental overdose, although the issue of suicide would need to be considered."
Mr Scott said there was nothing to indicate Ms Lynam had taken her own life.
He ruled that, although it was impossible to explain with certainty how Ms Lynam died, the only logical explanation was that put forward by Dr White.
Edited by nomis, 06 December 2011 - 09:36 PM.