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Originally published September 29, 2009 at 11:34 AM | Page modified September 30, 2009 at 10:53 AM

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Seattle Children's faces claim in teen's painkiller death

The family of a Kent boy who died in his sleep after using a painkilling patch prescribed by his dentist has filed a legal claim against Seattle Children's hospital, a dentist and dental resident.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The family of a Kent boy who died in his sleep after using a painkilling patch prescribed by his dentist has filed a legal claim against Seattle Children's hospital, a dentist and a dental resident.

Dr. David Fisher, the hospital's medical director, agrees that the highly potent narcotics patch that caused the death of 15-year-old Michael Blankenship should not have been prescribed, but says that not one single person is to blame. The hospital has taken steps to ensure the error does not happen again, he said.

Blankenship had four teeth extracted at the hospital March 9 and was sent home. That night his mother applied a pain patch containing Fentanyl prescribed by his dentist to help him sleep. The teen was found dead the following morning, said Seattle lawyer Chris Davis.

"We believe the dentist who prescribed it either did not previously prescribe it to a patient or had no experience with it," Davis said. "It's so egregious, according to my experts."

Davis contends that Blankenship should have never been given the time-release patch because Fentanyl has been documented as dangerous and a medication that should only be used in specific cases. The Food and Drug Administration has issued a strict advisory about the Fentanyl patch, saying that it should only be used by patients who are opioid-tolerant and have chronic pain that is not well controlled with other pain medicines.

Blankenship, who according to the King County Medical Examiner's Office died of ketamine and Fentanyl intoxication, was not taking other narcotics, which would have made him "opioid-tolerant," Davis said.

Fisher, in a statement, said the patch was prescribed because the teen was autistic and could not tolerate pills or liquid medicines.

"While this medication was prescribed and dispensed with the intention of providing the best care for the patient, in this case both the delivery system and the dose were inappropriate," the statement said. "We immediately notified the family of our error and apologized. A thorough investigation revealed that this was not the fault of any one individual."

Davis and Blankenship's mother, Tammy Jarbo-Blankenship, have attended a mediation session with lawyers from Seattle Children's, but a settlement figure quoted "wasn't anything near what I believe should be attempted to make up for this tragic loss."

The claim was filed in King County Superior Court on Sept. 21 naming Seattle Children's, dentist Barbara Sheller and a dental resident as defendants. They have 60 days to respond to the claim before the family can file a civil suit.

Sheller and the resident were not disciplined by the hospital because an internal investigation revealed that the fatal prescription "was not the fault of any one individual," a hospital spokeswoman said.

Spokeswoman Teri Thomas declined to say whether Sheller and the resident are still working at the hospital.

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The hospital said it has changed the way that Fentanyl patches are prescribed. The hospital now requires the prescription be approved by a pain-medicine specialist and is updating a medication information database for doctors to include more detailed information about Fentanyl.

Jarbo-Blankenship, a preschool teacher, said in a prepared statement that her son's "needless death has devastated my entire family ... "

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

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