Death of Leicestershire man creates 'grave concerns' over online drug sales says coroner

-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)

The death of a Leicestershire man has created “grave concerns” over the ability to buy “powerful” drugs online, a coroner has ruled. Nigel Dixon was 64 when he died from an overdose of two drugs in February last year.

Mr Dixon was an army veteran who served his country as part of an elite unit. He had a medical history of physical and mental health issues including depression, suicide attempts, being sectioned, chronic alcohol misuse and an opioid dependence, an inquest into his death heard.

Mr Dixon purchased one of the drugs online and did not have a prescription for it at the time of his death, said Rutland and North Leicestershire coroner Isobel Thistlethwaite in her report on the circumstances around Mr Dixon’s death. The amount he was able to purchase in one go was described as “huge” by a GP who gave evidence at the inquest.

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Ms Thistlethwaite said it was “gravely concerning that powerful drugs are available online so freely and in such large quantities, with little to nothing in the way of checks and balances around who the drugs are being sold to”. She also criticised a seeming lack of regulation of companies supplying the drugs, saying that seemed to her to “inevitably put the lives of vulnerable people at risk”.

The coroner has issued a 'prevention of future deaths report' based on her findings, which she has sent to both the Secretaries of State for Health and Social Care and for Digital Culture, Media and Sport. Ms Thistlethwaite said action needed to be taken to safeguard lives, and has called on the Government to set out what it has or will do to ensure similar deaths do not occur in the future. LeicestershireLive asked both government departments for comments, but did not receive any by the publication deadline.

The company which supplied the drugs has not been named in the report. However, the report stated the company did not communicate with Mr Dixon’s GP when he placed his order.

Giving evidence, the GP told the inquest it was “hard to safely prescribe to people who are supplementing their prescription drugs with online purchases”. She also raised concerns about the safety and quality control of the drugs being supplied, the report noted.

Ms Thistlethwaite added: “I would imagine there is no way for these online companies to check whether their customers are placing duplicate orders with other websites. There seems therefore to be a situation where one could purchase almost limitless amounts of these drugs with no checks or balances at all. There seems to be no system for establishing the suitability of the purchaser, nor a system to limit the amount or frequency of medication being purchased.”

“In short, there was no protection offered to Mr Dixon by the online company who sold him these, and other drugs, and it is clear that the drugs purchased from the company have contributed to his death,” she concluded.

Leicester hospitals are also mentioned in the report. Mr Dixon was admitted to hospital shortly before his overdose. At the time, he had a prescription from his doctor for the other drug found in his system following his death. However, during his stay, the hospital stopped his intake of that drug.

When he was discharged, his prescription should have been cancelled, but the hospitals did not pass on the relevant information. Mr Dixon was then able to access a week’s worth of the drug from his community pharmacy.

The coroner noted that improvements had already been made by the hospital trust that would likely prevent this situation happening again for another patient.