Jury awards $500,000 in methadone overdose malpractice case

A jury in New London Superior Court has awarded $512,000 to the survivors of a 32-year-old woman who died of a methadone overdose in 2008 hours after she was treated and released from the Lawrence + Memorial Hospital emergency room.

The estate of Jill Procaccini, 32, had sued emergency room physician Thomas E. Marchiondo, who has since died, and the Emergency Medicine Physicians of New London, a group that employed the emergency room doctors at L+M. The hospital itself had been named in the lawsuit but was removed before it went to trial.

In a written summary of the case, attorney Matthew Auger of the Suisman Shapiro law firm said that Procaccini had spent much of her adult life battling a cocaine and heroin addiction.

On Nov. 28, 2008, New London firefighters and hospital paramedics found her near death and administered Narcan, the antidote to an opiate overdose.

Procaccini's breathing was restored, and she was alert and oriented when she was taken to the emergency room.

While there, Auger wrote in the summery, two nurses noted in her chart that she was a methadone consumer, but Marchiondo, the attending physician, documented heroin use only. A urine test was positive for both opiates and methadone.

Procaccini was released at 11:45 p.m., five hours after her admission, with stable vital signs, and the physician presumed she had recovered.

But she died six hours later, and the state office of the Chief Medical Examiner concluded the cause of death was methadone toxicity, according to Auger.

The estate claimed Marchiondo ignored the medical history obtained by the nurses and the positive urine test for methadone.

"Unlike heroin, which has an elimination half-life of two to four hours, methadone's half-life is 15 to 55 hours," according to Auger.

The U.S. Food and Drug administration had sent out an alert on methadone in 2006, noting its effect as a respiratory depressant lasted longer than its peak analgesic, or painkilling effects, according to Auger.

While the defense argued Procaccini must have ingested additional methadone after she left the hospital, the jury accepted the argument that the physician should have treated the potential methadone overdose and admitted Procaccini to the hospital so she could be monitored for 24 hours.

Procaccini's father, James Procaccini, hopes the verdict will cause emergency rooms to change the manner in which they treat drug addicts, according to Auger.

"He recognized his daughter made a conscious choice to use drugs, but her condition remained a disease, and she should have been treated like all other patients."

Attorney Frederick J. Trotta of the Halloran & Sage law firm, who had defended the late physician and the employment group, declined to comment. L+M spokesman Michael O'Farrell also declined to comment.

k.florin@theday.com

Twitter: @KFLORIN

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