Councillor had high level of morphine at time of death
A COUNCILLOR had high levels of morphine in her body when she died, an inquest has heard.
Veronica Sharkey, who had an internal morphine pump fitted, died suddenly in her home after returning from a routine visit to the Mater Hospital.
The 63-year-old Cavan councillor had the medicinal pump fitted for chronic back pain in 2003 due to collapsed vertebrae, and the device required regular refilling.
Mrs Sharkey was found dead in her home at 5.30am on the morning of May 13, 2008, by her husband Patrick. In his statement at the inquest into her death last month – which was held after legal delays – Mr Sharkey said his wife had attended the hospital the day before in order to have her morphine pump refilled, a routine appointment which was required every 60 to 70 days.
Upon her return from hospital that evening, Ms Sharkey attended a council meeting and spent most of the evening sick.
However, the former County Council Cathaoirleach refused to go to hospital and instead went to bed.
Mr Sharkey said when he checked on his wife for the second time at 5.30am, she was cold and not breathing.
Local doctor Eamonn McDwyer was called to their home, and reported finding the deceased lying on her side, cold with no abnormal markings and pronounced her dead.
The inquest heard that a post-mortem examination was carried out by in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, the following day, and Dr John Ryan could find no evidence of a heart attack, infection, or clotting in the lungs and said her brain, liver, stomach, lymphatic system and airways were all normal. He said the pump and the lines to it were all correctly located, and recorded the cause of death as "morphine toxicity".
The pump, made by medical technology company Medtronic, had a reservoir which could hold 18ml of morphine that would be slowly released into her system.
Roisin MacSullivan from the Mater Hospital said the release of the morphine was regulated by a computer through a telemetry programme and that the battery life of the pump was five to six years.
Specialist anaesthetist registrar Dr Jennifer McElwain administered the refill by needle at the Mater on the day in question in May 2008.
The court heard that the cause of her death was "morphine toxicity" and recorded a verdict of "misadventure".
The coroner said she remembered Mrs Sharkey "as a highly esteemed jury member" of the court, who "always gave her services most willingly and for the benefit of society" and said it was a "very tragic event" for her family.