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44-year old female dies of drug overdose while in custody

Type of Injury: Death
Type of Case: Civil Rights and Medical Malpractice
Settlement Amount: Confidential

(Civil Rights and Medical Malpractice) The estate of F-44 brought this action for alleged acts and/or omissions by the County of McLean and Sheriff of McLean County, by and through their agents and/or employees at the McLean County Detention Facility (“MCDF”), which proximately resulted in Plaintiff’s death on April 8, 2004.

On April 5, 2005, Plaintiff was taken into custody for possession of heroin. After being taken into the custody of the MCDF, Plaintiff was given a physical assessment. Upon examination, the nursing staff at the jail concluded that Plaintiff was highly intoxicated from opiates. She had constricted pupils (miosis), which is not consistent with withdrawal from heroin. Plaintiff admitted to the nursing staff that she recently took an unspecified quantity of heroin by rubbing it on her gums and took an unidentified quantity of hydrocodone pills.

Prior to ending the nursing care that evening (there is no medical staff on-site between 10:00 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.) for the opiate-intoxicated Plaintiff, a “nursing diagnosis” was made of opiate- impairment and a conclusion was reached that Plaintiff had swallowed a balloon and/or baggie of heroin based on the fact that Plaintiff had been ineffectively trying to vomit and evacuate her bowels. This is inconsistent with the procholinergic symptoms of withdrawal from heroin, but is consistent with someone trying to rid their body of a balloon or baggie of heroin. Although it was known that if the balloon or baggie leaked it would most likely cause sudden death, the nursing staff directed the Sheriff’s Department only to monitor Plaintiff, instead of immediately transferring her to a hospital to address the possible heroin-filled balloon or baggie. Moreover, the MCDF did not train staff on the use of naloxone (Narcan®) and did not provide that drug on-site.

The next morning Plaintiff was found sitting on the floor of the booking cell, with vomit in her hair, her skin from the waist down was mottled and pinkish-blue in color, her breathing was labored and made a gurgling sound, she was fully diaphoretic, and that her eyes were rolled back in her head. Personal at the MCDF called 911 and paramedics transported Plaintiff to OSF St. Joseph Hospital. Plaintiff arrived at the hospital where her condition declined until she was pronounced dead on April 8, 2004.

Plaintiff contended that under the applicable federal and Illinois case law, based upon the nursing staff’s recklessly-prescribed treatment, the defendants were liable to the plaintiff.

Defendants contended that none of their actions violated Plaintiff’s civil rights and, moreover, the on-site health care professionals did not commit medical malpractice.

Injuries: The Report of the Coroner’s Physician to the Coroner of McLean County stated that Plaintiff died of “Anoxic Encephalopathy due to Opiate Intoxication.” According to an antemortem blood draw of the morning of April 6th at the hospital, Plaintiff’s opiate quantitation showed Codeine at .21 micrograms (mcg) per milliliter (ml) (mcg/ml) and Morphine at 4.2 mcg/ml. In her urine, Plaintiff’s opiate quantitation showed Codeine at .67 mcg/ml and Morphine at >4 mcg/ml. At the coroner’s inquest, Coroner Kimmerling stated that Plaintiff had fatal levels of Morphine in her blood and urine.

A deputy testified at the Corner’s Inquest that he was told by Dr. Christopher Long, director of the St. Louis University Forensic Toxicology Laboratory, based on Plaintiff’s levels and behavior, Plaintiff ingested a baggie of heroin before her arrest, which subsequently leaked and/or was absorbed into her system. Dr. Long’s opinion regarding the baggie is consistent with Hoeniges’ deposition testimony wherein she diagnosed Plaintiff, prior to her leaving the jail at 10:00 p.m., as having swallowed a “balloon” or “baggie” of heroin, in light of her efforts to vomit and her efforts to make a bowel movement.

What Each Defendant Paid: McLean County (Confidential) (see above)

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