Saturday, July 10, 2010
Pulaski mother charged in methadone mishap
The Pulaski woman said her son drank methadone that she left on the counter. He survived.
A Pulaski mother was charged with felony child neglect after her 3-year-old son ingested liquid methadone, police said Friday.
Melissa Southern, 22, was being held without bond Friday at the New River Valley Regional Jail after being taken into custody Thursday evening, Pulaski police Chief Gary Roche said.
The child, whose name isn't being released, has been placed in the custody of the Pulaski Department of Social Services, Roche said.
The incident occurred just four days after another Pulaski mother was convicted of second-degree murder and felony child neglect in the death of her 3-year-old son, who also ingested liquid methadone.
"Fortunately this child survived," Pulaski County Commonwealth's Attorney Mike Fleenor said. He said the investigation is ongoing.
Southern's son was taken to Pulaski Community Hospital's emergency room Tuesday and released the next day, Roche said. Tests showed that he had methadone in his system. It is unknown how much he ingested, Roche said.
Police said Southern knew the boy had taken the drug, which had been left on the kitchen counter of their home, about noon Tuesday but didn't get him medical attention for almost three hours.
Southern had brought home six bottles of methadone from the Galax methadone clinic, where she has been a client for about three years, police Lt. Mike Hudson said.
She told police she had taken some from one bottle and then placed the bottle on the kitchen counter, he said.
She said she thought she may not have put the cap back on tightly enough to prevent her son from opening it, Hudson said.
Methadone is distributed in liquid form at drug treatment centers, including centers in Galax, Roanoke and Tazewell County, to curb addiction to opium-based drugs such as oxycodone and heroin.
When clients first start getting methadone from a clinic, they must ingest the drug on-site. But after a while, they are given individual bottles to take home.
The incident involving Southern's son is similar to a case heard by a jury last week in Pulaski County Circuit Court.
In that case, Lisa Michelle Hylton, 39, testified during her trial July 2 that she bought liquid methadone from a drug dealer who had gotten it from a methadone clinic.
She knew she had been shorted, so she measured the liquid by pouring it into the small plastic measuring cup she had been using to give her son cold medicine.
Hylton left the cup on the kitchen counter while she went into another room. Her son, Trevor, picked it up and drank it.
Instead of taking him to a hospital right away, she tried to treat him at home, forcing him to throw up and feeding him milk.
Trevor was taken to a hospital about 14 hours later, after he stopped breathing.
The jury recommended Hylton spend 20 years in prison. She will be sentenced later, after a background report has been completed.
Over the past decade, methadone has become an increasingly popular -- and lethal -- street drug in Southwest Virginia.
The region accounted for nearly half of the 356 fatal overdoses statewide in 2008 that were caused by methadone, oxycodone, fentanyl and hydrocodone, according to the state medical examiner's office.
Methadone is used legitimately in two ways: Doctors prescribe it as a painkiller, usually in a pill or wafer form, and drug treatment centers dispense it as a liquid.
In 2008, the most recent year for which numbers were available, Pulaski County had 11 fatal drug overdoses, making its death rate more than three times that of the state average, according to the medical examiner's office.
It is unclear how many of those deaths stemmed from methadone use.
Staff writer Laurence Hammack contributed to this report.