Tragic death of Wigan man in pain after a stroke

A Wigan man prescribed morphine to help manage his pain had more than three times the toxic level in his body when he died, an inquest heard.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 4:55 am

Christopher Donnelly took medication daily to control his pain after a stroke two years earlier, with liquid morphine as needed for any breakthrough pain.

Bolton Coroner’s Court heard he may not have realised he had taken a larger dose of the painkilling drug, perhaps topping up what he had already taken.

And he had fatty liver disease, likely caused by his battle with alcoholism, which may have slowed the breakdown of the morphine and caused it to build up in his body.

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Bolton Coroner's Court

The inquest heard Mr Donnelly, 56, was born in Kent and moved to the North West as a child due to his father’s job. He loved football and Formula 1 motor racing.

But he had health problems, including a heart issue, and had a stroke in 2018 which left him with chronic pain.

Mr Donnelly had been alcohol dependent for 15 years, spending time in detox centres and having lengthy periods of sobriety before returning to drink.

He moved into a bungalow in Ince last year and was feeling positive, making plans for the future.

His brother Jeffrey Donnelly told the inquest: “It was a brand new start for him. He was looking forward to doing the garden.”

But when Mr Donnelly’s sister could not contact him on December 19, his brother Jeffrey went to his home and found him slumped in an armchair.

Emergency services attended, but Mr Donnelly could not be revived.

A post-mortem examination revealed Mr Donnelly had a heavy heart, though that did not contribute to his death, and there was evidence of fatty liver disease.

Blood and urine samples were sent for analysis and 610 microgrammes of morphine per litre were found in his blood.

The hearing was told that 50mgs can be toxic for a naive user, while more than 200mgs can be toxic for a regular user such as Mr Donnelly.

Consultant pathologist Dr Emil Salmo said: “People can develop tolerance to the drugs, so the more you use the drug, the more you build tolerance to it.”

Metabolites of morphine were also found, suggesting he had taken the drug some time before his death, and it could have accumulated in his body due to the fatty liver disease.

The tests also showed he had taken his daily painkiller at a therapeutic level.

His cause of death was recorded as morphine toxicity with fatty liver disease.

PC Nathan Meadows said he went to Mr Donnelly’s home after his death and there were not deemed to be any suspicious circumstances.

While more bottles of the liquid morphine were found in the house, Mr Donnelly’s GP said there was nothing to suggest he had been requesting prescriptions earlier than expected. Dr Sean Clarke, from Leigh Family Practice, said: “We certainly don’t prescribe more than 500mls in a month, but we rely on people telling us when they need it.”

He also said that while Mr Donnelly had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression in 2009, there was nothing in his medical records to suggest he felt suicidal or wanted to self-harm.

Coroner Stephen Teasdale recorded that Mr Donnelly died by misadventure.

He found there was nothing to suggest he intended to take his own life.

Mr Teasdale said: “I think what is a telling factor of this case is that there is evidence from the toxicology report that he had taken alcohol.

“The taking of alcohol may have affected his judgement, both of the quantity and also the timescale that he had taken the morphine sulphate.”

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