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Monday, May 13
Accent | Business | Local News
Main News | Opinion | Sports

Autopsy on nurse finds drugs

By Jill Taylor, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 10, 2002

STUART -- A nurse found dead of a drug overdose in a hospital restroom April 10 had at least three different drugs in her system, including two injectable drugs normally found in hospitals, toxicology reports show.

Jessica Viscount, 28, was a recovery room nurse at Martin Memorial Medical Center and apparently entered the bathroom with several vials of drugs and locked the door behind her sometime after her shift ended.

Medical Examiner Roger Mittleman, who received the preliminary reports this week, said Viscount had extremely high levels of Prozac, an anti-depressant that had been prescribed for her to treat depression.

But the other two drugs, tranquilizer Diazepam and pain reliever Dilaudid, likely came from hospital supplies that were not prescribed for her, Mittleman said.

A syringe near her body had traces of Diazepam and it's suspected she injected that drug into the back of her hand where the autopsy revealed several injection sites. An empty morphine bottle was found in a trash can near the body, but Mittleman said the preliminary test results do not show any morphine in her system.

"We are testing for other drugs that were available to her," he said. "The toxicology analysis is not complete."

Until all the results are available in three or four weeks, Mittleman will not decide whether the death was an accidental or intentional overdose. But he is certain a combination of drugs caused her death.

Although the fact that the preliminary tests show high levels of Prozac, a drug in pill form for which she had a prescription and presumably knew the proper dosage, Mittleman said he is not leaning toward a deliberate overdose because he did not find evidence of recently swallowed pills during the autopsy.

The levels of Diazepam and Dilaudid were relatively low.

He said he was told she had missed some Prozac doses and may have taken extra pills to make up for it. The extra Prozac could have reacted with the other drugs and brought about a fatal overdose that she might otherwise have survived.

But Mittleman said he can't say for sure until all the results are in.

"That (the Prozac) is the only thing that makes me wonder a little bit," he said. "I'm leaning toward calling this an accidental death."

Part of the reason is information from her family indicating that Viscount had been struggling with addiction for some time and had taken to wearing bandages on her hands, possibly to conceal injection sites, Mittleman said.

Meanwhile, Stuart police are waiting for the final autopsy report before issuing their findings.

Hospital spokeswoman Pat Austin said Martin Memorial has reviewed the procedures for issuing and tracking medications and is satisfied they followed all state, federal and accreditation requirements.

And a review of records and patient charts did not show any evidence that drugs were diverted from patients who needed them, Austin said.

However, it is possible that unused portions of drug vials that were supposed to disposed of were not properly thrown away.

There are ways that someone could foil the system if they were determined enough, Austin said.

"That's where it becomes difficult," she said. "It's a terrible tragedy, but we may never know exactly what happened."

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