A Burnsville woman has been charged with third-degree murder for allegedly giving a Bloomington man at least half her prescription pain patch to chew on in exchange for marijuana.
The Hennepin County medical examiner determined the Bloomington man died in February by overdosing on Fentanyl, a powerful narcotic in the patch said to be dozens of times as strong as morphine.
Bloomington police arrested Shelbi Lynn Svare, 49, on Thursday, and she was held in lieu of $500,000 bail. The charge was filed by the Hennepin County attorney's office.
"It took some time for the medical examiner's reports," said Bloomington police Cmdr. Mark Stehlik. "The biggest part of it was the toxicology tests, which isn't a real quick process."
On the morning of Feb. 10, Bloomington police responded to an emergency call in the 9100 block of Lyndale Avenue, where they discovered the victim not breathing, according to a criminal complaint. Police and paramedics were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
The medical examiner later listed the cause of death as "Fentanyl toxicity."
"Investigators learned that Svare gave the victim her prescribed prescription Fentanyl, which ultimately caused the victim's death," says a Bloomington police statement.
The victim's girlfriend told a police detective that he used illegal and prescription drugs, according to the criminal complaint filed against Svare.
The girlfriend said that on the night of Feb. 9, he seemed to pass out in her lap as Svare drove the three of them to his residence. Svare then told her she had given him half her pain patch, the complaint states. Svare and the victim's girlfriend got the victim inside his home with the help of the building caretaker.
The girlfriend claimed he was breathing when she went to bed. "When she woke up, he wasn't breathing and she was unable to revive him," the complaint states.
Interviewed by police, Svare allegedly denied giving the victim the patch and said he took it from her purse when she wasn't looking.
She later called police and recanted, saying she had given him half a patch in return for some marijuana, according to the complaint. "She stated that on a previous occasion, she had given (him) a whole patch in exchange for marijuana and knew that he got sick when he chewed it," the complaint says.
Dr. Scott Seidman, a physician with the American Medical Forensic Specialists in Emeryville, Calif., said Fentanyl is an opioid, like morphine or codeine, but "roughly 100 times as strong as morphine."
Fentanyl patches are meant to be worn once every three days and are typically prescribed in connection with cancer treatment and chronic back pain, he said. Heavy doses can dull brain receptors to the point where the respiratory system shuts down.
While there have been several recalls of certain types of Fentanyl patches, Seidman said, deaths are usually attributed to instances in which a patient has been prescribed too high a dose, a child has gotten hold of a patch, or a person has been chewing on one for a heroin-like high.
The murder charge against Svare carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and a $40,000 fine. According to state statute, third-degree murder is unintentional murder by a dangerous act of depravity or selling, distributing or administering certain types of controlled substances.
In October, Svare pleaded guilty in Dakota County District Court to a misdemeanor charge of tampering with a motor vehicle and entering it without the owner's permission. A theft charge was dropped, and documents show she was sentenced to five days of community service and a year of supervised probation.
The sentencing order indicates she was also to "take all (prescription) medication, follow mental health plan ... follow all instructions of probation."
In February 2008, Svare pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft in Dakota County District Court. She was sentenced to a year of probation.