Police question friend in teen's drug death

Woman's painkiller suspected as source of fatal overdose

January 28, 1999|By Devon Spurgeon | Devon Spurgeon,SUN STAFF

Eric Lee Downey was found last week on a wooden pier, near his bicycle, lying face up with his arms outstretched, dead from a morphine overdose. It was the first juvenile drug overdose in Anne Arundel County this decade.

Behind the pier, in a house that looks out onto Stony Creek, a woman controls the pain of terminal lung cancer with morphine.

Her son was Eric's friend. The night Eric, 17, died, the two had been seen together on the pier at High Point Beach in Pasadena.

That's where authorities believe Eric began swallowing morphine tablets. Medical experts say he may have taken as many as 55 to overdose.

"This is a very hard blow for any parent," said his mother, Mary Downey. "He was an extremely good kid, and he was not the type to take drugs. He was against drugs."

Eric, a senior at Northeast High School, dreamed of becoming an artist, she said. He sketched race cars and loved to fish with his father. His drawings of 1969 Camaros, his favorite car, are scattered around the family's home in Pasadena. He had just gotten his learner's permit.

No one knows for sure how Eric obtained the morphine tablets, but police are questioning the friend whose mother took the drug to ease the pain of her disease.

The Sun is not using his name because he is a juvenile.

"It is a controlled substance and was out where they had access to it," said Mrs. Downey. "It is supposed to be in a controlled environment."

Morphine at low concentrations controls pain. At high concentrations, it can shut down breathing. It is highly addictive and used only for critically ill patients.

"If you take enough, you lose the ability to have your brain tell your diaphragm to keep moving and take breaths," said Dr. William McDade, associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care at the University of Chicago.

"My son's death is a perfect example of how dangerous the drug is," Mrs. Downey said.

Eric was not found until a woman feeding ducks near the pier the morning of Jan. 20 saw his body and called police.

He was pronounced dead at the scene. Eric had been on the pier for more than 15 hours.

"The medication should be under lock and key," Mrs. Downey said. "I do not want this to happen to anyone else's child."

Pub Date: 1/28/99

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