Pain-killer patch blamed for death of Space Coast father

Recovery from routine surgery resulted in death

SATELLITE BEACH, Fla. - Carey Cooper snored for as long as his family can remember, a symptom of his sleep apnea, which can be a dangerous condition.

After having surgery to alleviate it, it turned out neither the condition nor the surgery was as dangerous as the narcotic patch his surgeon would prescribe for him to relieve postoperative pain.

According to a lawsuit filed by his survivors, the Duragesic patch, designed to release the narcotic fentanyl through the skin, killed him.

The mechanical engineer, who worked in the space program for United Launch Alliance, was 50.

"It wrecked us," said his eldest son Aaron, 33. "There are four kids who are orphans and my youngest brother was 10 when his father died in 2007." Their mother died not long afterwards.

"It's obviously just a whole that can never be filled," said his daughter, Crystal, now 30. "It just sort of taints everything, even the good things he's missing."

The manufacturer of the patch, and the CVS pharmacy that distributed it to Cooper reached confidential settlements, but lawyers for his surgeon, Dr. Michael Widick, continued to defend the lawsuit.

The trial was set to begin this month, but Dr. Widick agreed to a $375,000 settlement in December 2012, more than five years after Cooper died.

None of the defendants admitted fault for the death, but makers of Fentanyl patches have been slapped with multimillion dollar verdicts because juries found they were defective and deadly.

After being recalled, the patches were redesigned and are back on the market, presumably now safe and effective.

Repeated attempts for comment from Johnson & Johnson, the parent company of patch makers, were unsuccessful.

In an email, Widick told Local 6, "In 2007 manufacturing defects associated with the Duragesic patch were not publicized within our medical community. It is now known that manufacturing defects can cause the patch to deliver a larger than intended dose of narcotic."

The lawsuit notes the patch comes with a warning that it should not be used for postoperative pain or on patients who have not been on opiate pain killers for some time. Cooper fit both criteria for not being given the patch.

"I thought it was insane," said family attorney Chris Shakib. "Someone goes for a pretty routine surgery and expects to come out okay. They certainly don't expect it to be the last thing they do."

Putting on the Fentanyl patch and going to sleep with it was the last thing Carey Cooper did.

After his surgery on Aug. 15, 2007, at Cape Canaveral Hospital, Cooper was sent home with pain killers, but he could not keep them down, so Widick prescribed the Duragesic patch.

"I based that on his pain, the amount of pain medicine he's had and on a schedule of using progressively stronger pain medication," Widick said in a 2010 deposition.

Asked in the deposition if he would prescribe the patch again, Widick grew emotional saying, "I can't really reconcile what happened to Mr. Cooper just based on the dosage I gave him, so I'm not comfortable using this medication anymore."

As they cope with life without their dad, the Coopers wonder what they could have done to avoid the death.

Crystal said she wishes she would have forcefully questioned and resisted taking the prescription when she picked it up at the CVS pharmacy in Cocoa Beach on Aug. 16, 2007.

"I had some doubts. I had some gut feelings," Crystal said. "I trusted the doctor to know more than my gut feeling."

Added Shakib; "Unfortunately, we should be able to rely on our doctors knowing what they are doing. We're not medical professionals. They are, but, unfortunately we have to question everything."

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