Man played 'Russian roulette'

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 12:00 15/01/2013

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A Levin man who died after unwittingly taking dangerous prescription medication was taking a "Russian-roulette" gamble with his life, a coroner has ruled.

In a report released yesterday, coroner Garry Evans found that Joshua James Waho, 35, died in Palmerston North Hospital on February 10, 2007 from a brain injury caused by taking "happy pills".

Mr Waho took several Clozapine tablets at a Levin hotel on February 7, 2007 while drinking with friends. Clozapine is used to treat schizophrenia. It cannot be prescribed by GPs and dosages need to be carefully monitored.

"The death of Mr Waho starkly illustrates the dangers of people taking substances offered to them by others, the nature of which cannot be known," Mr Evans said. "The terms ‘happy pills' and ‘recreational drugs' are misnomers. In many ways, as this case illustrates, the taking of these kind of drugs is like playing Russian roulette."

Although Mr Waho died in 2007 his inquest was only held in Levin in December last year. The coroner's inquest was not held in 2007 as the file relating to Mr Waho's death was "inadvertently filed", Mr Evans said. The coroner apologised to Mr Waho's family for the "unacceptable" delay.

Police investigated Mr Waho's death in 2007 and interviewed family, friends and those who had been at the hotel on February 7. At the time they ruled out food poisoning or violence as causes of death and referred the case to the coroner.

Dr Justine Pickett, who carried out an autopsy on Mr Waho, told the coroner Clozapine was an anti-psychotic medication with a wide range of potential toxic effects.

However, they were described as "happy pills" when Dean Rickerby gave them to Mr Waho and their associate Gregory Ahern at the New Levin Hotel. Each of the three men took several pills and all three ended up in Palmerston North Hospital later that night, with Mr Ahern and Mr Rickerby being discharged the next day. Mr Evans said Mr Rickerby did not know what the nature of the drugs was, as he took some himself.

An Otago University report released two months after Mr Waho died found that five patients who had been prescribed Clozapine had died due to side-effects.

Pete Ellis, a psychology professor who worked on the review, said Clozapine had serious side-effects, including constipation and damage to bone marrow.

The Standard was unable to contact Mr Waho's family but in 2007, close friend Rachel Jones told the newspaper he was a former patched gang member who had changed his ways before his death.

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"He was a Nomad gang member back in the day . . . but he hasn't been in trouble for a few years now. Since all the kids came along, he sort of settled down and started being an adult. He was a good dad who always did stuff with his kids. You would always see him walking to the park with them. He loved kids."

Mr Evans said the Government was to be complimented for the firmer policy it had since taken against party pills.

- Manawatu Standard

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