A young mother of four who died after accidentally overdosing on painkillers had changed a handwritten prescription from her GP to secure a larger quantity of one of her regular medications.
Annette Foley was just 29 when she was found by one of her children in the sitting room of her home at 49 Richmond Court in Bandon, in Co Cork, on the morning of May 25, 2017.
Coroner Frank O’Connell heard that she had developed a habit of overmedicating on painkillers, sometimes mixed with alcohol, since the breakdown of a relationship eight months beforehand.
In her statement, read out in court, Annette’s mother, Ann Foley, said she had seen her daughter the previous day, noting that she was “all over the place” and had drink or tablets taken.
The following morning at 8.10am she went to Annette’s house, just three doors away, to ensure the children were up. She “knocked and knocked” at the door and even shouted in the letterbox, but when there was no answer she went to work. In court, Ann Foley told the coroner that she would have seen Annette intoxicated on a number of occasions and had tackled her about it.
Annette’s sister, Katie, said in her statement that they had become less close in recent weeks because Annette was taking painkillers and was “out of it” — she mentioned Xanax and “heavy stuff”. She said Annette had bought eight Xanax off a girl in town and had around 80 tablets in her child’s nappy bag. She said Annette had said she sold a buggy for €50, but the woman who bought it said she paid €100, with Katie saying she didn’t know if her sister had used the money buy more tablets.
The statement of Dr Charlotte Murphy of the Millbrook Clinic in Bandon said Annette had attended for pain in her ankle and had been advised to go to hospital because of a possible fracture:
Annette was given her prescription but it did not include the drug Lyrica, used to treat epilepsy and generalised anxiety. However, one of the drugs mentioned on the script was scribbled out and ‘Lyrica’ written in instead. The pharmacist in Scannell’s Pharmacy said it was the first time Annette had come to this pharmacy. The coroner’s court later heard that CCTV showed Annette had first gone to Boots Chemists in the town but they had refused to fulfil the prescription.
A neighbour, Mary Robinson, said she popped into Annette’s house at 10.10pm the night before she died and observed: “She was thrown on the couch and appeared to be out of it on something.”
The children raised the alarm the next morning — first a nine-year-old boy who then fetched his older brother. They both tried to rouse Annette but the older boy quickly concluded she had died and, distraught, rang the gardaí.
Sgt Thomas Lehane said Annette’s eldest child was distressed and was crying.
Annette’s wrist was “ice cold” and that there was blood on her pyjama bottoms and on her nightgown and blood around her nose and mouth. Gardaí moved the children out of the house as quickly as possible while preserving the scene.
Inspector Eamon Brady recalled interviews with both Annette’s GP and the pharmacist: “They appear to be different between what was prescribed and what was dispensed. The evidence would suggest that she changed it.” It meant she was given 60 Lyrica tablets.
Prof Marie Cassidy, then the State Pathologist, said the most significant findings from the post mortem were the very high levels of medication in Annette’s system. A blister pack of Xanax had been found in Annette’s bra. Prof Cassidy said Annette would most likely have become so intoxicated she lost consciousness. She had inhaled vomit, her gag reflex was likely compromised, and the way her head fell forward likely created a “kink” in the upper section of the windpipe — or postural asphyxia.
The coroner said Annette was “intoxicated by medication”. She most likely died shortly after midnight. He said she Annette had developed a habit of deliberately over-medicating on painkillers,and this was deliberate, but he emphasised that while this was “fraught with risk”, she had not intended to harmor kill herself. She He offered condolences to Annette’s family and recorded delivered a verdict of death by misadventure.