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Autopsy: Duke patient died of poisoning from common medicines

Posted December 21, 2010

— A Duke University Hospital patient whose death is under investigation by police was poisoned by two types of medication, according to an autopsy report released Tuesday.

Cheryl Lynn Suber, 30, of Garner, had sickle cell anemia and was admitted to the hospital in October for acute chest syndrome. The autopsy report states that she was improving but was "suddenly noted to be unresponsive" and died on Oct. 5.

The cause of her death was initially labeled cardiac arrest, but the autopsy found that Suber died of "complications of combined oxycodone and diphenhydramine poisoning." Toxic concentrations of both medicines were found in her blood, and a toxic concentration of diphenhydramine was in her liver.

Oxycodone is a pain reliever, and diphenhydramine is an antihistamine.

Debra Carrington, Suber's mother, said she learned of the autopsy results Tuesday morning and declined to comment on the case.

"It's really difficult to discuss this right now," Carrington said. "We're going to let the investigation take its course."

Duke University Police Chief John Dailey said his investigators were reviewing the autopsy report. He said the investigation into Suber's death "remains active," but he declined to say whether it was still being treated as a homicide.

Duke University Hospital, Duke Hospital Autopsy: Duke patient fatally poisoned by common medicines

An attending physician at Duke Hospital initially asked for a police investigation because he was suspicious of the circumstances surrounding Suber's death, according to search warrants filed in the case.

The warrants state that Suber's boyfriend, identified as David Bass, visited her room on Oct. 5, and as he was leaving, he told a nurse that someone should check on Suber. The nurse found Suber unresponsive.

Hospital personnel trying to resuscitate Suber found a syringe in her bed, according to the search warrants. The syringe was labeled "saline," but the liquid inside was colored and opaque.

Nurses, physicians and a hospital pharmacist said that they didn't recognize the liquid in the syringe and that it was inconsistent with any medications administered on the unit where Suber was being treated, the search warrants state.

Bass couldn't be reached Tuesday for comment, but his sister, Davisha McDonald, said he wasn't involved with Suber's death.


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  • UPTOP Dec 22, 2010

    sounds like the boyfriend needs to be talked to !!

  • knockitoff Dec 21, 2010

    hope they have that syringe for finger prints! But then again they probably also had the gloves!

  • Anonymouse1 Dec 21, 2010

    Armyrn, it already comes in pill form and has been given to people at NC hospitals.

  • annemarek Dec 21, 2010

    This is murder. What was the syringe in the bed? Any way to find out what was in the syringe? What medical person would leave a syringe behind. I wonder if Duke has a syringe count.

  • mramorak Dec 21, 2010

    meeper,you are so right unfortunatly.

  • sammyg Dec 21, 2010

    Davisha, Davisha, Davisha...sheesh-a. Don't stick up for a man who obviously lies, okay?

  • meeper Dec 21, 2010

    You can bet that a good lawyer will find a way to make Duke libel. It's always about the money.

  • hemp4victory Dec 21, 2010

    Refer madness, The greatest hoax ever perpetrated on humanity !

  • superman Dec 21, 2010

    tjhiggs68-guess you didnt read or see the part that her boyfriend was there and he was the one who reported her needing assistance. If anyone else was there he would have seem them.

  • amyrn Dec 21, 2010

    People think Benadryl is harmless. You can get it over the counter and in combination with other medications as someone else said. But, it shouldn't be taken in combination with any other sedative type of medication especially a narcotic. There are some cases where it may be taken with another antihistamine. I do wonder if marijuana has been tested for use in sickle cell patients for their pain. If it has and it is effective, then surely it is time for marijuana to be made available by prescription in all of the states. Sickle cell patients suffer from excruciating pain and can become addicted to other medications that do not relieve it.