Northern California Record

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Father sues drug treatment center after son's overdose

By Taryn Phaneuf | Apr 19, 2016

SAN RAFAEL – After his son died of an overdose at a California drug treatment facility, a Louisiana attorney is suing over claims the facility didn’t follow regulations when staff allowed his son to stay at the residence after they knew he was intoxicated.

In March 2013, Nathan Eaton died in his room at the Manor, a Center Point treatment facility in San Rafael, Mercury News reported. The night before, he had told the facility’s program manager that he took five 10-milligram methadone pills that afternoon.

Fernin Eaton of Baton Rouge filed a lawsuit alleging that allowing his son to stay at the residence violated state regulations, which prohibit facilities from allowing intoxicated residents on the property unless they’re admitted for detoxification or withdrawal. The Manor isn’t licensed as a detox facility. 

A certified drug and alcohol treatment counselor who isn't connected to the suit said patient safety is his primary concern but that can't compel a patient to cooperate in a program.

David Skonezny, a certified alcohol drug counselor II and an international-certified alcohol drug counselor who works in Southern California and isn't connected to the treatment center mentioned in the suit, told the Northern California Record that the possibility of incidents like this “is always kind of looming.”

“We’re dealing with a fatal disease,” he said. “Human beings take it upon themselves to take action that could end their lives.”

Skonezny is the chief operating officer at Simple Recovery, a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center, and the ethics chairperson for the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals.

He said he thinks it’s responsible for counselors and treatment centers to prioritize patient safety first, then staff safety and facility liability.

“I can’t speak for any facility out there except my own. What we do in the event of a relapse in a residential setting is they have to exit the system,” Skonezny said.

He said if the staff encounters a patient who admits to taking a drug, they evaluate whether the patient needs medical attention or if he or she should be moved to another facility with a higher level of care, such as a detoxification facility.

Removing an intoxicated person from the residential setting is also important for other residents who aren’t prepared to cope with seeing someone in that state. It could derail their own efforts to stay sober.

“That’s why we, on our side, send people out of the system because in addition to patient safety, we don’t want them to trigger other people,” he said.

Choosing to allow a client to stay while he or she is intoxicated could be an ethical or a training issue, Skonezny said.

“I can’t say if it was ethical or training because I don’t know the decision making behind it,” he said. “If it was a missed assessment on his condition or a bad clinical decision, that’s a lack of appropriate training.”

However, if he was kept on-site instead of sent for medical treatment so that the facility could “maximize their own profit by keeping a resident at the facility,” as the lawsuit alleges, it would be an ethical problem.

Skonezny said drug and alcohol counselors do the best they can but, in the end, a patient has to choose to participate in the process. Sometimes, they don’t. If a facility was negligent and a patient died, they should be held accountable – it’s what he’d demand of himself in a similar situation.

“Unfortunately, sometimes, drugs win,” he said.

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California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals

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