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Online zopiclone sales contributed to veteran’s death, says coroner


Online zopiclone sales contributed to veteran’s death, says coroner

The online sale of large quantities of zopiclone to a troubled army veteran clearly contributed to his death from drug toxicity in February 2023, a coroner has said. 

A recent Prevention of Future Deaths report by assistant coroner for Rutland and North Leicestershire Isabel Thistlewaite found that 64-year-old Nigel Dixon, who lived alone and had a history of physical and mental health issues including chronic alcohol misuse and opioid dependence, had been able to access zopiclone from an “online company” in a larger quantity and higher strength than would ever be prescribed by a GP. 

Mr Dixon – who “served his country as part of an elite unit” – was found dead on Monday February 13 after the fire service gained entry to his home, with the cause of death recorded as morphine and zopiclone toxicity. 

Mr Dixon’s GP had been concerned about his use of prescription drugs and was monitoring him closely, having stopped his prescriptions for zopiclone and then diazepam. His GP was also weaning him off morphine when on February 3 2023 he was admitted to hospital after an overdose of morphine.

The coroner found that following his discharge on February 7, a hospital discharge letter “was not actioned” and Mr Dixon managed to obtain a prescription for a week’s worth of morphine from his community pharmacy. 

The inquest heard that “improvements” have been made to the local NHS trust’s use of PharmOutcomes that will “on the balance of probabilities” prevent this occurring in future by promoting better communication between hospitals and community pharmacies.  

Mr Dixon “was honest” with his GP about the fact he used online drug purchases “to supplement his prescriptions,” having informed them in August 2017 that he was taking six times the licensed amount of zopiclone. 

The inquest heard that 12 days before his body was discovered Mr Dixon had purchased a “huge” amount of zopiclone online, and that the company that made the supply did not make any contact with his GP surgery. 

“It is 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,” said the coroner.

“There seems to be no regulation of the supply of these drugs and that seems to me to inevitably put the lives of vulnerable people at risk,” she added, commenting that the company that sold him zopiclone and other drugs offered him “no protection”. 

She said that since there is “no way” for online companies to check whether patients are “placing duplicate orders with other websites,” there is a risk an individual could “purchase almost limitless amounts of these drugs with no checks or balances at all”.  

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