Post-Doctoral Student Studying Drug Addiction Dies After Injecting Buprenorphine

Post-Doctoral Student Studying Drug Addiction Dies After Injecting Buprenorphine

Marianne Woessner sees drug addicts with good jobs and from good families nearly every day. The North Carolina nurse and midwife recently made the discovery that her own daughter was in this category when she was told by a Baltimore police officer that her daughter, Carrie Elisabeth John, died after apparently injecting herself with buprenorphine while trying to get high with her boyfriend, Clinton Blaine McCracken.

Peter Hermann of the Baltimore Sun writes that John and McCracken were postdoctoral fellows at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, working in labs on the same floor, studying the effects of drug addiction. However, they grew marijuana inside their home and used narcotics purchased over the Internet from a Philippine pharmacy that shipped pills hidden inside stuffed animals.

"These are two brilliant people who made a stupid error in judgment," Woessner said in a telephone interview Wednesday. Woessner said she doesn’t think McCracken injected her daughter or forced her to do drugs.

"He loved her and she loved him," she said. "I know this. They’re humans, just like all of us. We all have our faults. Just because drugs is what they studied doesn’t mean anything. Addiction is addiction, no matter what we do, what race we are, what occupation we have."

Baltimore police have charged McCracken, 32, with several drug violations, and a department spokesman said federal authorities have expressed interest in pursuing the case. McCracken is free on bail and declined to comment when reached at his home on Wednesday.

McCracken told police, according to court documents, that he and John "thought they could control the morphine and buprenorphine" and that he thought marijuana should be legalized.

Dr. Donald Jasinski, chief of the center for chemical dependency at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, said it should come as no shock to see doctors or other medical professionals addicted to drugs, especially those who study narcotics and are around the chemicals daily.

"Anybody who handles drugs thinks they know how to control it," he said. "Perhaps the highest risk group for opiate dependency is doctors."

Buprenorphine is commonly used to ease heroin addicts off the drug, and is prevalent in Baltimore and other cities as an alternative to methadone.

Jasinski said doctors "who you think would know better" sometimes like to experiment like everyone else. "How many people try to quit smoking and know that it’s bad for them and want to quit but can’t?" he said.

Woessner said she was angry to discover that lab workers, despite being around controlled drugs and narcotics that would be illegal on the street, were not tested for drug use. Such testing, she said, could have alerted authorities and helped her daughter get treatment before she died.

Karen A. Buckelew, a spokeswoman for the medical school, said drug tests are administered to "certain employees as required by law," but she confirmed that workers in the lab where John and McCracken worked were not monitored regularly.

Woessner described her daughter as a "superstar" and said "everything she did, she did well." She started playing softball at age 7 and continued on a team in Baltimore. She played the clarinet in her high school band and embraced the Native American heritage of her father’s family. She graduated from high school early and enrolled in Cornell University at the age of 17, majoring in biology.

She met McCracken at Wake Forest University as they worked toward doctorates in their shared field of interest, drug addiction. She earned a doctorate in physiology and pharmacology.

She moved to Baltimore in 2006. McCracken left the University of Pittsburgh three months ago to join her. John worked on projects involving schizophrenia and drug use, and last year led a neuroscience discussion on "This is your brain on drugs."

Woessner said she met McCracken several times and that she regarded him as "polite, intelligent, articulate" and someone "who loved my daughter." They planned to live together for a year before marriage, and, she said, McCracken would have made "a perfect son-in-law."

McCracken told authorities that he and John injected themselves with buprenorphine and morphine. Police said they had turned their unkempt house into an indoor marijuana farm, with grow lights and fans vented with aluminum dryer hoses. Police said they found pills in bags, at least 20 bongs, 30 marijuana plants growing up to two feet high and more packed and stored in Mason jars.

According to court documents, McCracken gave police a detailed account of what happened Sunday, saying he and John soaked two buprenorphine pills in water before filtering them and filling two syringes each with 1 mg doses of the drug. He said John, who has asthma, injected first and immediately had trouble breathing. He helped her use her inhaler, and then dialed 911.

She got to the hospital at 6 p.m. and died 49 minutes later. McCracken said he didn’t get a chance to shoot up because John had already gone into distress. Police found her syringe in the living room of the house.

McCracken told police that he didn’t think John overdosed, but instead injected a bad batch of drugs. Police said results of toxicology tests to determine how John died are pending.

Woessner said she met with McCracken on Tuesday and described him as "very upset, because they were playing, they were doing what couples do. This was not an intentional thing."

However, she does not want him at her daughter’s funeral on Saturday. She said some relatives are angry with him and with what happened, and she wants the service to be a place "where I hope to celebrate her life."

Woessner repeated that she doesn’t blame the boyfriend but said, "I say to God, ‘I hope that Clint can someday find some peace with this.’ "

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