Autopsy finds no drugs in inmate But report unclear on how long medications would stay in system

July 01, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

The state medical examiner's office said yesterday that the autopsy performed on Howard County jail inmate Parrish Michael Spinoso detected no drugs in his system, raising questions about the circumstances surrounding his death last month.

Officials in the medical examiner's office said the autopsy did not detect two medications that jail officials said were given to Spinoso, 22, to ease his heroin withdrawal. The autopsy did not make clear, however, how long the drugs -- Vistaril and Ecotrin -- should have remained in Spinoso's system.

Dr. John E. Smialek, the state's chief medical examiner, could not be reached for comment.

Spinoso last took the medications about 11 hours before he was found dead June 7, according to a report released by the Howard County Detention Center the week after his death.

The autopsy confirmed preliminary results that Spinoso died as a result of acute asthma, which he had since he was a toddler, according to his mother, Carol Spinoso, who claims the jail was negligent.

Melanie C. Pereira, the jail's director, said she could not comment on the autopsy results because she had not seen them. Pereira reiterated that the jail had followed proper policies and procedures. Pereira has said that Spinoso was allowed to keep asthma inhalers in his cell, but that the day before he was found dead he had twice refused two medications he was supposed to take daily. One medication was withheld pending review by the jail doctor.

Pereira's report said that Spinoso saw a nurse four times in his 42 hours at the jail for symptoms associated with withdrawal and was given medication.

Asked about the autopsy findings that the withdrawal drugs were not detected, Pereira responded: "That's a medical issue. I don't know how long it stays in the system."

Spinoso's mother and her attorney, Marvin Ellin, allege that the jail failed to provide her son access to the asthma medications he brought with him when he was arrested on drug charges Friday, June 5.

Yesterday, Ellin said the autopsy contradicts the jail's account of events before Spinoso's death.

"If he had aspirin in his blood, they would have detected it," Ellin said. "I think the report shows the kid was in desperate need of help and he was denied it."

Ellin has an affidavit from the inmate in the cell next to Spinoso's that says Spinoso repeatedly asked for his asthma medication Saturday, June 6, but the nurses told him he could not have it until Monday, when the doctor was to examine it.

In the sworn statement, Russell W. Shaver Jr., 21 -- who also was arrested on drug charges -- said he heard Spinoso complain to a nurse that he had difficulty breathing and "begged" for his asthma medication.

Shaver was released from the jail at 10: 45 p.m. June 6 and has not returned phone calls.

According to the jail report, Spinoso brought four medications with him -- Albuterol, Serevent, Flovent and Prednisone. He went to the jail's medical section about an hour after he arrived June 5. The nurse on duty reviewed the medications and asked him what dosages he required. Spinoso was given the Albuterol inhaler to take to his cell.

Flovent and Serevent -- which are also administered by an inhaler -- were put in the nurse's cart to be dispensed in the morning and evening. The Prednisone -- a steroid taken in pill form -- was withheld pending review by the jail doctor, according to the report.

Early on June 6, the report says, Spinoso began vomiting and was brought to the nurse at 9: 45 a.m. At the time, Spinoso complained only of withdrawal-related symptoms, the report says. After another bout of apparent withdrawal, Spinoso went to the nurse again and was prescribed medications.

Twice that day he took the withdrawal medications, but refused his asthma medicine, according to Pereira.

Jail officials last had contact with Spinoso at 9 p.m. June 6 when he talked with a jail officer about his drug addiction.

During routine hourly checks, officers never heard anything to indicate that Spinoso was in distress, the report says.

When officials discovered Spinoso dead in his cell, they found the two Albuterol inhalers next to his body. One was full, the other was half full, according to the report.

Pub Date: 7/01/98

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