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Baton Rouge man sues drug treatment center over son's overdose

By Taryn Phaneuf | Apr 19, 2016

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

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.

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

David Skonezny, a certified alcohol drug counselor who works in Southern California and isn't connected to the treatment center mentioned in the suit, told the Louisiana 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," Skonezny said. "What we do in the event of a relapse in a residential setting is they have to exit the system. We have had clients who in the past say, ‘I was at a meeting and somebody handed something to me and I put it in my body.’ And what we do is we interview them, assess their condition — do they need immediate medical intervention or do they need to go to a higher level of care, a detoxification setting.”

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.”

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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