05/29/07 — Autopsy: Death was caused by overdose

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Autopsy: Death was caused by overdose

By Lee Williams
Published in News on May 29, 2007 1:45 PM

The State Medical Examiner's Office in Chapel Hill has ruled a 26-year-old man who was found dead in March died from a methadone overdose.

Cameron Timothy Robbins of 104 Crooked Creek Court was found dead March 11 in his bed by his wife, Brandy Lynn Robbins. Wayne County sheriff's deputies responded to the home and confirmed the report.

Robbins, who was a superintendent for Jackson Builders, died just three weeks after his wedding.

No apparent signs of trauma were noted and no foul play was suspected, Wayne County Sheriff's Maj. George Raecher said.

"He simply went to sleep and didn't wake up," Raecher said in an earlier interview.

Deputies learned Robbins suffered from sleep apnea. A machine that aided his breathing was found unplugged, but this did not solve the question of what caused Robbins' death.

With no strong leads and the victim's age to consider, officials sent Robbins' body to the State Medical Examiner's Office for an autopsy.

"Toxicological analysis of postmortem blood shows a fatal concentration of methadone," Robbins' autopsy report stated.

Officials ruled the incident an accidental death.

Robbins' death is among two deaths logged in Wayne County this year that had ties to methadone, a prescription drug most commonly used to treat chronic pain and to wean addicts off heroin.

Methadone is a narcotic, and while it has its health benefits, it is also often abused or misused by some who are unaware or ignore its deadly effects, officials say.

The reality of methadone and what could happen when it is not taken as prescribed has touched many families in North Carolina, officials say.

Today, methadone overdoses are the leading cause of prescription drug-related deaths in North Carolina, said Kay Sanford, state epidemiologist for the Division of Public Health's Injury and Violence Prevention Branch.

In 1999, there were 34 deaths from methadone overdose, Mrs. Sanford said. In just six years, the number of deaths from methadone overdose jumped dramatically -- to 272.

The average age of those who died from methadone overdose were in their late 20s, she added.

Methadone overdoses are becoming more prevalent, but some say education is one way to reverse the trend.

"The use of methadone has resulted in more deaths than we would have expected," Mrs. Sanford said. "If it is prescribed properly or taken properly, it's no different than any other narcotic."

Methadone is categorized by some as the quiet killer because it attacks a person while they sleep -- without warning, some say.

"If a person takes too much, it sends a message to the brain to stop breathing," Mrs. Sanford said. "It shuts down the lungs from functioning. There are no symptoms if you overtake the drug. The person simply gets sleepy, goes to bed and doesn't wake up."

Monitoring a person's sleep habits is key to fighting the deadly effects of methadone -- before it's too late.

"If you think the person you are looking at has taken methadone and is sleeping and snoring and they usually don't snore, then that person is very close to death and it's a medical emergency," Ms. Sanford said. "Snoring is a sign the lungs are no longer functioning."

Ms. Sanford urged residents to get the person medical attention if they see this.

"We've reviewed hundreds of cases," she said. "And in many of those cases, the witness heard the person snoring and when they went to check on the person, the person was dead."