Report shows potentially lethal level of cough medicine in Huerta’s body

mschultz@newsobserver.comFebruary 26, 2014 

— A report released Wednesday shows Jesus Huerta, the Durham teen who died in police custody last year, had enough cough suppressant in his blood to cause hallucinations and even possibly kill him, the chief toxicologist said.

The toxicology report from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner showed no presence of illegal drugs in the Riverside High School student’s body.

It did find less than 0.25 milligrams per liter of chlorpheniramine, an antihistamine, and 1.5 milligrams per liter of Dextromethorphan, an active ingredient in cough medicine, in his blood.

“It’s a very high level of Dextromethorphan,” chief toxicologist Ruth Winecker, Ph.D., said Wednesday night.

Huerta’s level was at least 10 times greater than would be expected in someone taking the prescribed amount to treat a cough, she said.

“Certainly the person that’s taking that (level of) medication is going to have extreme side effects,” she said. “People have died from concentrations that high.”

Police say Huerta, 17, fatally shot himself while handcuffed behind his back in the back seat of a Durham police car Nov. 19. Police had picked him up on an old trespassing charge after his family called 911 to report him missing and noted his drug problem.

The autopsy report, released previously, said Huerta died of a gunshot that traveled up, through the front of his jacket and struck him in the mouth. The bullet went through his head and into the car roof.

A report by a California expert says about 10 percent of teens surveyed said they had used DXM cough medicine to get high. The practice is called Triple C’s, Robo’ing or Robotripping, or Skittles.

Ilene Anderson, senior toxicologist at the California Poison Control System, said in the report, “Dextromethorphan Abuse in Adolescence: A Rising Trend,” that teens abuse the drug because it is legal, relatively cheap and they think it’s safe.

Raziel Huerta, Jesus’ brother, said Wednesday he was not aware of his brother using cough medicine at the time of his death but said he had not seen the toxicology report and did not want to comment further.

The Durham County district attorney recently announced it was reopening its investigation into the teenager’s death to look at possible new evidence in the case.

Attorney Alex Charns and Huerta’s family members have said police failed to adequately protect Huerta once they took him into custody. They also have disputed the police conclusion that Huerta had the .45-caliber handgun that killed him in his possession at the time of his arrest.

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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