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Fentanyl Pain Patch Deaths in South Carolina (SC)

Pain Patchs (also known as fentanyl, fentanil, Sublimaze, Actiq, Durogesic, Duragesic, Fentora, Matrifen, Haldid, Onsolis, Instanyl, Abstral and) Lazanda) are being used more frequently to treat patients suffering from chronic pain.  This drug is 100 times more potent than morphine and is extremely dangerous.  Of course, the manufactures of pain patches keep track of such deaths but do not release that data for public consumption.  Statistical studies of accidental Fentanyl deaths by state agencies are also not available for public consumption.  Coroners in the state do not keep any statistical/computerized record of these deaths and do not release their findings that might otherwise help with tracking trends or problems.  Most, but not all, Coroners in the state  use the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to run lab tests on Fentanyl deaths which should make it possible to monitor deaths over any geographical area.  However, if served with an Freedom of Information Act Request, SLED will not produce a computer generated report of this data and will refer the requestor to the particular Coroners office to obtain a copy of such reports. SLED has the ability to run computer queries to evaluate these deaths but will not do so voluntarily in response to an FOIA requests. This is clearly a violation of the FOIA.  In addition, many Coroners will not produce copies or even redacted copies of their files or lab results of a pain patch death in response to Freedom of Information Requests.  Instead, Coroners will only allow a requestor to inspect individual files in the Coroner’s office citing patient/family privacy.   Allowing only inspection of a Coroners file technically complies with the FOIA.  However, with 46 county Coroner offices in the state, the task of performing an independence statistical evaluation of Fentanyl related deaths is nearly impossible.   Most Coroners in the state do not have the staff to maintain a searchable statistical data base to keep track of Fentanyl deaths and rely/expect SLED to computerized that record keeping.  However, as noted above,  SLED will not produce copies or computer queries and will refer the requestor back to particular Coroners office.  Most disturbing of all about this situation is that many Coroners do not know how to properly investigate a Fentanyl death.  It is true that Coroners are only concerned or charged with determining whether the cause of death was the result of a criminal act or suicide.  It is fairly easy to determine whether a fentanyl death is the result of suicide or a crime.  In such cases, Coroners simply look for signs of 2 or more pain patches being used.  In some suicides, a suicide patient will place the fentanyl patches in their mouth.  In the case of a suspected crime, Coroners will secure and retain all the pain patches found at the scene and the matter is turned over to prosecutors.   However, in cases involving a death from a mere accidental fentanyl overdose, with no evidence of double patching, it appears Coroners tend to rule such deaths to be accidental and close their file without further investigation. Coroners are not concerned with civil liability over matters of negligence.  Incredibly, in some cases of accidental deaths, Coroners will immediately confiscate all remaining/unused Fentanyl pain patches found at the scene and will destroy the patches since they are considered controlled substances. Thus, to the delight of the manufacture, the opportunity for further testing is prevented.   Without further testing, it is impossible to determine whether there was any defect in the patch or whether the patient had other medical conditions that made prescribing the fentanyl/pain patch, a matter of malpractice.   So, if a family has a loved one who has unexpectedly died from an accidental fentanyl pain patch overdoes, they should immediately demand that the Coroner, the hospital or medical examiner preserve as evidence all used and unused patches at the scene. The family should immediate contact a fentanyl pain patch attorney to help preserve the evidence for further testing by competent technicians and experts who know what to look for.