Prescribed painkillers cause death of Hartlepool dad, 30

Hartlepool Magistrates' Court.
Hartlepool Magistrates' Court.

A YOUNG dad died at home in a tragic accident caused by accidentally taking too much codeine for knee pain.

An inquest heard how Christopher Wanley, 30, regurgitated some food as he slept which he then subconsciously inhaled into his respiratory system.

But due to the amount of codeine in his system, he suffered breathing difficulties and his heart stopped.

His distraught dad, who Christopher lived with in Fletcher Walk, in the town, found his son a few hours later “in a bad way” and frantically called for paramedics, but it was too late.

A post-mortem examination found Mr Wanley had 37.2mg of codeine per litre of blood in his system, said to be a “very, very high amount” and “associated with fatality”.

But town coroner Malcolm Donnelly told the inquest: “He had painful knees and he was prescribed codeine for that.

“There was an excess of codeine, but he didn’t do it to cause harm, he must have taken it because he was in some pain.

“The reason I can say that is because of the food inhalation.

“He didn’t have the facility to deal with that because of what he had in his system at that point, the excess of codeine.”

The inquest heard how Mr Wanley got up on June 3 this year and had some breakfast before taking his dogs for a walk to some nearby shops.

He returned and had some lunch later in the day before telling his dad he was going up to his bedroom and put the television on.

His dad went up to the room at around 9.30pm where he found Mr Wanley lifeless.

Mr Donnelly told the inquest how Mr Wanley suffered with epilepsy and asthma. He said Mr Wanley, who was unemployed, had taken amphetamines in the past but “not for a while”.

Mr Donnelly said: “The clinical biochemist carried out a number of tests and essentially Christopher had in his system quite a lot of different substances, all of them legal.

“The only thing that was not prescribed was alcohol, but it was only a trace, it played no part at all in the circumstances which led to his death.

“However in the bodily fluids that were examined the concentration of codeine was very high.”

The cause of Mr Wanley’s death was said to be respiratory depression and food inhalation and codeine overdose.

Mr Donnelly explained how the high concentration of codeine led to Mr Wanley’s death.

He said: “Codeine suppresses the breathing reflex.

“When you go to sleep we have all, at some point, woken up with a start, it means you are breathing naturally.

“We breathe without thinking about it but what an excess of codeine does is suppress that reflex.

“It means the mechanics of breathing isn’t as natural as it would be if you hadn’t taken codeine.”

Mr Donnelly added: “In no sense did Christopher intend the consequences of his actions.

“We will never know why he took the codeine, we know he had a painful knee and maybe he thought he would take a few more to try and stop that pain but I’m speculating there.”

Mr Donnelly said there were no suspicious circumstances and his verdict was Mr Wanley’s death was an accident.