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Double overdoses like the one in Clearwater exceedingly rare, data shows

Police say Eric and Susan Kinkead apparently died of overdoses in their Clearwater apartment in early June.

Special to the Times

Police say Eric and Susan Kinkead apparently died of overdoses in their Clearwater apartment in early June.

CLEARWATER — A Dunedin couple who died on their living room floor as their infant daughter lay in a crib.

A boyfriend and girlfriend who overdosed on methadone while having sex.

A 49-year-old man and his 25-year-old daughter found dead after a night of partying.

Each of these double overdoses is an anomaly in the prescription drug abuse epidemic that killed 179 people in Pinellas County last year. Data from medical examiners shows that cases where two people overdose at the same time are exceedingly rare.

If pending toxicology reports reveal what police suspect — that a Clearwater couple found dead in their bedroom June 9 accidentally overdosed on prescription medications — they'll become only the second double overdose in Pinellas this year.

Pasco and Hernando counties had no such cases over the past five years. Hillsborough County records were not available.

Since 2005, Pinellas has had four confirmed cases where two people died together after taking too many prescription drugs. The county's one double overdose in 2009 accounts for only about 1 percent of its prescription drug deaths that year.

In Pinellas' most recent case, Susan and Eric Kinkead, both 35, were found dead in their bed on June 9. Police were called after one of the couple's four children sent a text message to a family friend saying he hadn't seen his parents in more than a day.

Clearwater police say it appears they died from a prescription drug overdose. Toxicology results are pending. Police won't release the specific drugs found in the couple's apartment, citing an ongoing investigation, but neighbors said they appeared to be addicted to pain pills.

The cases beg the question: How do two people of different sizes and different metabolisms overdose at the same time?

The answer, in part, is the same as it is for single overdose deaths — people accidentally taking lethal dosages or mixing prescriptions they've never used together before, said Bill Pellan, director of investigations for the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office.

Part of the cause, authorities say, could be the culture of sharing prescriptions.

"The culture of sharing isn't really uncommon. It's being done, commonly, by people that are underage," said Pinellas sheriff's Sgt. Dan Zsido, a narcotics investigator. "A kid tells his friend or someone he knows, 'I've got these pills. Take one, it will get you high,' not knowing what they will do to you."

Dr. Jon R. Thogmartin, chief medical examiner for Pinellas and Pasco counties, said double overdose deaths raise suspicions because they're so unusual. "You worry about foul play, carbon monoxide. Is there a poisonous snake in the house?"

But it stands to reason that double overdose deaths could happen based on the sheer number of overdoses, he said.

Pinellas' other cases since 2005 are:

• A 28-year-old woman and her 26-year-old boyfriend who were found dead on their living room floor in Kenneth City in September 2005. They had several drugs in their system, including lethal levels of clonazepam.

• A married couple found decomposing in their Pinellas Park home in May 2008. Both had oxycodone, a muscle relaxer, a sedative and alcohol in their system.

• The May 2009 deaths of a Dunedin couple in their 30s who had a variety of prescription drugs in their system. They left behind a 1-year-old daughter, who was in the apartment when her parents died.

• A father and daughter, Dennis and Danielle Carter, who died in a Pinellas Park apartment in March after drinking beer and taking oxycodone, methadone and alprazolam.

Dennis Carter's brother, Rick, said Dennis was getting massive amounts of Roxicet, methadone and Xanax from an unscrupulous pain management clinic.

"It's lethal," Carter said. "I don't see why they'd prescribe opiates and Xanax together. They know that's what's killing people."

That combination is exactly what authorities are seeing locally, Thogmartin said.

"It continues to pop up. Bam, bam, bam. Over and over."

Zsido, of the Sheriff's Office, hopes the county's recently imposed moratorium on new pain management clinics, along with a state prescription drug monitoring plan, will curb prescription drug abuse.

And, ultimately, overdose deaths.

"I'm hoping these (double overdoses) are not going to be a new trend," Zsido said, "but until we start to decrease the overall number of people overdosing on these drugs in Pinellas County … they could."

Double overdoses like the one in Clearwater exceedingly rare, data shows 06/21/10 [Last modified: Monday, June 21, 2010 10:58pm]
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