Friday, July 23, 2010

Marchman Act Blog: Mother charged in sleeping pill overdose death of toddler son

Police arrested Raisa Bernabe, 44, of Parkland, on Thursday.
The Broward Medical Examiner's Office ruled that Bernabe's son, Nicholas Odze, died from an overdose of eszopiclone, a prescription sleep aid sold under the brand name Lunesta.

Toxicology tests conducted as part of the todder's autopsy also found the child shortly before his death had ingested ibuprofen and the prescription pain substances oxycodone and oxymorphone, according to a medical examiner report.

Police worked closely with Sepracor, the company that manufactures Lunesta, to determine precisely that it was the eszopiclone that killed the child, said Coral Springs Police Sgt. Joe McHugh.
Officials at Sepracor could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon. Bernabe had told detectives she gave the toddler a Lunesta pill the night of Sept. 9 because he had not been able to stay asleep the previous two nights, police said.  The child's father, Allan Odze, found the toddler unresponsive in his bed the next morning, police said. "The family is devastated. This is a tragedy that just doesn't end," said attorney Spencer Aronfeld. Soon after the death of their son, Bernabe, who at the time worked as an assistant to the Coconut Creek city manager, and Odze, a retired police officer from New York, stopped living together, Aronfeld said. Bernabe has also struggled with severe emotional issues and was recently hospitalized, he said. "No matter how the criminal accusations shake out, they don't want to lose sight of the fact that an innocent child died," Aronfeld said about the boy's relatives.

The Medical Examiner's Office classified the toddler's death a homicide, based on Bernabe's statement to police that she deliberately gave her son the Lunesta. Detectives searched the family's apartment on Sept. 10, after the boy died, and collected 68 prescription pill bottles, according to court records. Nearly all the medications, including the Lunesta, had been prescribed to Odze. Bernabe had told police that shortly after giving the Lunesta pill to her son, she found him near several opened prescription pill bottles in her bedroom, according to court records. It was unclear from the records what the child's condition was that night or how many pills he may have ingested in addition to the Lunesta. Eszopiclone, a hypnotic used to treat insomnia, can lower breathing and metabolism and be lethal if taken in too high of a dosage, according to Sepracor, which is based in Massachusetts. The drug has not been tested in children and is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for pediatric use. In addition to manslaughter, Bernabe also has been charged with delivery of a controlled substance to a minor and knowing sale or transfer of prescription drug to an unauthorized person, authorities said. She was being held Thursday night in the Broward Main Jail on $21,000 bail.  Staff Writer Ariel Barkhurst contributed to this report. Sofia Santana can be reached at svsantana@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4631.

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