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Methadone claimed life of 3-year-old

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
An autopsy report in the death of 3-year-old Kaely Nicole Heaven Osterhus concludes that the little girl died from methadone toxicity.
Dr. Christopher J. Gulledge of the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s Office reported that his toxicological analysis from the girl’s autopsy revealed aortic blood, vena cava and liver methadone levels that were toxic “in a non-tolerant user.”
“It is my opinion the cause of death in this case is methadone,” Gulledge concluded.
It was this same toxicology evidence that investigators with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office waited on before charging Kaely’s mother, Paula Osterhus, with involuntary manslaughter last week.
The Post obtained a copy of the autopsy report Thursday.
Until now, the Sheriff’s Office had declined to identify the controlled substance they said the girl had ingested.
The autopsy report said the China Grove girl, who weighed 34 pounds, was found dead in her bed by her mother on April 17.
Paula Osterhus told investigators she had found her daughter unresponsive at their 255 Tims Trail residence at 5:48 p.m. that day. The mother called 911, and emergency responders were unable to revive the girl.
The mother was the only one home with Kaely when she was found unresponsive, reports said. Eric and Paula Osterhus also have two sons.
A Sheriff’s Office spokesman told the Post earlier that a controlled substance, now confirmed to be methadone, had been left in a food container that was within reach of the girl.
The methadone was in a liquid form and red in color, according to reports.
Kaely’s mother had been prescribed methadone at a clinic, the spokesman said.
Methadone is used to help people suffering from chronic pain or for cancer patients. It also is prescribed to wean addicts off illegal narcotics. In that regard, it’s known mostly as a treatment for heroin addiction.
Used correctly, it can be an effective drug.
But used improperly, methadone can lead to lethal overdoses, and health officials say methadone-related deaths are increasing at a faster rate than any other drug-related deaths. According to the latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics, deaths nationally from the misuse of methadone increased 600 percent from 1999 to 2005 ó from 786 deaths in 1999 to 4,462 in 2005.
The North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics reported 273 deaths in which methadone was mentioned in 2004 and 318 in 2005, and it is believed those numbers have been increasing yearly since then.

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