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<TD>Bloomington teen charged in girlfriend's drug death
David Chanen, Star Tribune
July 20, 2005 TEEN0720
Daniel Otto and his girlfriend, Sherry Thompson, smoked marijuana and drank wine coolers with friends at his Bloomington townhouse on a recent June night. She snorted one of his Prozac tablets in an attempt to get high, but it didn't work for the teenage girl, who had experimented with Ecstasy and crack cocaine.
Thompson, 15, begged her 16-year-old boyfriend to break into a lock box where his mother kept large dosages of methadone. He resisted at first, later telling police he was aware that the drug was dangerous. After he relented, Otto watched Thompson drink down the drug, throw up and fall asleep in the basement.
Otto checked on her the next day before his mother drove him to work, not realizing that she was dead.
Details of her death were made public this week in an unintentional third-degree murder complaint filed against Otto. While more teens are overdosing on prescription drugs, one expert said Thompson's death may be the first in the Twin Cities involving an adolescent killed by methadone.
It's difficult to charge somebody with murder in drug cases such as this because the prosecution has to prove exactly what drug killed the person and who supplied it, said Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar.
The medical examiner ruled that Thompson died from a methadone overdose.
The daily dosage of 220 milligrams that Otto's mother was taking for her treatment program would nearly always be fatal to a child or adult who hadn't built up a tolerance to the drug, said Gregory Carlson, director of addiction medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center.
Otto was charged with third-degree murder because he didn't intend to kill his girlfriend when he gave her the drug, Klobuchar said. He also was charged with second-degree manslaughter for negligence and creating a level of risk in causing Thompson's death.
What makes the murder charge even more unusual is that the defendant is a juvenile, Klobuchar said. It's expected he will be tried as an adult, but a judge could rule that the case remain in juvenile court.
There was no response Tuesday evening to messages left by a reporter at the homes of Otto and Thompson.
The charges filed against Otto describe Thompson's death this way:
Otto, Thompson and two of her close friends drank wine coolers and hung out for a couple of hours at Otto's townhouse June 23. Otto told police his girlfriend was intent on getting "wrecked" or high. He tried to talk her into going to sleep after she asked for the methadone.
He said he would buy drugs and they could get high the next day, but eventually he gave in. One of Thompson's friends said she wasn't suicidal, but loved getting high and "would want to get high on whatever drugs she could find." The friend said Thompson had regularly used marijuana for a year and had used Ecstasy, speed, crack and powder cocaine, mushrooms and alcohol.
She drank the methadone and Otto took a few prescription pills that were in the lock box. Otto woke up his mother two times during the night for cigarettes.
Otto's mother woke up to take her son to work about 10:30 a.m. the next day. Before they left, she went to take her methadone for the day and found the dosage missing. She told police she moved the lock box to different places to keep her son from finding out where she kept the drug. Carlson, the addictive-medicine director, said patients only earn methadone dose "take-home" privileges after demonstrating responsible handling of methadone and sustained abstinence.
Otto's mother and father had previously told him that methadone was very powerful and that he should stay away from it. They did so because they knew he was experimenting with drugs.
A horrifying discovery
When Otto's mother confronted him about the missing dosage, he brought her the unlocked box. She said that the box was locked the previous night and that the key for the box was missing. He said he hadn't drunk the methadone because he knew it could kill someone.
She drove her son to work and said they would talk about it when his shift was over. She returned home. More than an hour later, she went to the basement to try to wake the teenager, who was partly covered with a blanket. But the girl was cold to the touch.
"Sharing prescription drugs with each other can end in a tragic event," said Carol Falkowski, director of research communication for the Hazelden Foundation. "Adolescent drug users tend to abuse whatever they can get their hands on."
The criminal complaint didn't specify why Otto's mother was taking methadone.
The drug is typically used to combat heroin addiction. It blocks the effect of heroin without producing a high, reduces craving and suppresses withdrawal, according to Hazelden's "Dangerous Drugs" handbook. Methadone is typically used in an outpatient setting.
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