Monday, April 13, 2009

In The News: Suboxone Played Role in Wisconsin Death of Teen

Apr. 1, 2009--Investigators suspect that a lethal combination of alcohol and a prescription drug -- Suboxone -- likely played a role in the death of a 19-year-old freshman found dead Monday in a dorm suite at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, according to a university official and a Milwaukee County medical examiner's report.

Suboxone is the same drug that may have been taken by Whitefish Bay teen Madison Kiefer, who died March 1. It is used to treat heroin addiction.

Two UWM students -- a man and woman -- have been arrested in connection with the death of Luke David Murphy of New London, whose girlfriend found him unresponsive in her dorm room Monday morning, according to university spokesman Tom Luljak and the medical examiner's report.

Both students were arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, Luljak said.

The man who was arrested was in custody Tuesday night at the Milwaukee County Jail, according to jail records. The woman was released by UWM police Tuesday but ordered to meet with the district attorney's office, Luljak said.

The students also could face discipline from the university, Luljak said.

Murphy's death follows the Feb. 21 death of Ali MarieRaddatz, also a UWM freshman, who died after consuming alcohol and prescription drugs at an off-campus party.

Murphy's cause of death will not be known until the results of a toxicology report are received in the coming weeks, Luljak said. Murphy's family couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

According to the medical examiner's report regarding Murphy's death:

Murphy's girlfriend told investigators that Murphy watched basketball and drank alcohol at a friend's house on Sunday.

She told investigators that Murphy took pills while at the house. Investigators believe he may have taken Suboxone.

The report says Murphy received a text message Sunday night that said, "How crazy do you feel?"

Murphy's girlfriend told investigators he seemed high when he arrived Sunday night at her room in Sandburg Hall. He brought a bottle of beer, a half-bottle of juice and a bottle of vodka that was about one-eighth full, the report says.

Murphy's girlfriend told investigators he didn't seem completely intoxicated, but she said he was "intoxicated, tired and slow acting."

Murphy passed out in her bed and began "snoring loud, like he was somewhat gasping for air," she told investigators. Murphy often snored, but his girlfriend said she was concerned because he was also drooling.

Murphy's girlfriend found him unresponsive about 5:15 a.m. Paramedics were called, but Murphy was pronounced dead at 6:17 a.m., according to the medical examiner's report.

Luljak said administrators have been in constant communication with employees at the university health center, and administrators are meeting "to discuss how we can communicate the tremendous risks that are present when people abuse alcohol and drugs."

"This is an enormous tragedy and one that the university administration takes very, very seriously," Luljak said.

Particularly concerning to officials is information from the campus' health and wellness center suggesting that employees have seen an increasing number of freshman students arriving at the school with drug and alcohol issues, Luljak said.

"I think it is a reflection of what's happening in the high schools and even in the junior high schools around the state," he said. "It is a problem that does not begin when students come to college. Sadly, many of them have been experimenting with drugs and alcohol before they arrive."

Prescription drug abuse has increased on college campuses across the country in recent years, but UWM officials have not seen a spike in Suboxone abuse, said Paul Dupont, a clinical psychologist and counseling director at the university's Norris Health Center.

"Many students, whether it's high school students or college students, view (prescription drugs) as safer than illegal drugs because these are prescribed. In some students' minds, they can't be that dangerous."

But prescription drug abuse is extremely dangerous, especially when the drugs are combined with alcohol, Dupont said.

"When you mix alcohol and narcotics or tranquilizers, they multiply each other's effects, thereby dramatically increasing the risk of overdose," Dupont said.

Suboxone, a narcotic, has been prescribed with increasing frequency, increasing the potential for abuse, said Carlyle Chan, a professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

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