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Andrea James comments on methadone toxicity case


A prevention of future deaths report published this week stated the following:


“Had Matthew been given daily dose bottles of methadone as prescribed, or a measuring jug and instructions on how to use it had been provided, on a balance of probability basis his death would not have occurred.”


It is not very common for Coronial Prevention of Future Deaths Reports (PFD), to specifically relate to actions in community pharmacy. However, one published this week does precisely that. The case arises from the death of a young man, Mr MF, following a methadone overdose in April 2020.


At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Public Health England advised that individuals on opiate replacement treatment including methadone should be moved from short term (daily or tri-weekly) prescription collections to longer intervals.


In the case of Mr MF, his methadone collection was changed from three times per week to fortnightly.


His prescribing doctor stipulated that Mr MF’s dose was to be provided to him in single, daily dosage bottles each containing 54ml of methadone.


Unfortunately, Mr MF’s community pharmacy dispensed his methadone in three large bottles, each containing as much as 500ml of methadone, and did not provide a measuring jug. Mr MF was found dead shortly after collecting his prescription and his cause of death was recorded as methadone toxicity.


As Mr MF had been doing well in his recovery and there was no indication of any intention to die by suicide, the Coroner concluded that, due to the lack of a measuring jug, Mr MF guessed his first dose from the large methadone bottles provided to him and accidentally overdosed.


The Coroner found that had Mr MF been given daily dose bottles of methadone as prescribed, or a measuring jug and instructions on how to use it, on the balance of probability his death would not have occurred.


Under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, coroners are obliged to report about deaths with a view to preventing future deaths.  These reports are known as Prevention of Future Deaths Reports, or PFDs.  As a result of Mr MF’s death, the Coroner has issued a PFD to Public Health England, the General Pharmaceutical Council and the individual community pharmacy which dispensed Mr MF’s methadone.


As the Chief Coroner’s guidance makes clear, PFDs are “not intended as a punishment; they are made for the benefit of the public” and are “intended to improve public health, welfare and safety”. However, being the recipient of a PFD is a serious matter. Almost all PFDs are published by the Chief Coroner and become a matter of public record.


Further, the recipient of a PFD has a legal obligation to respond to the Corner within 56 days providing either (a) details of all action taken, or proposed to be taken, and a timetable for action, or (b) a cogent explanation as to why no action is proposed.


We will update this blog with the responses provided by the General Pharmaceutical Council and other PFD recipients once they are available. The full published PFD appears linked below.


Andrea James is a partner at Brabners LLP. You read about her role by clicking here. She invites readers not to hesitate to her or another member of Brabners’ Healthcare Regulatory Team should you need assistance in relation to any Inquest or PFD matter. You can reach by email by clicking here.



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